Dax MacCarty's 72nd minute goal from a Sacha Kljestan free kick gave the New York Red Bulls a 1-0 win over DC United at RFK in the first leg of the Eastern Conference semifinals. In the end it was a fair result. DC United were extremely poor and NYRB looked comfortably in control throughout. The away side rode their luck however. Second half substitute Ronald Zubar, on after starting center back Damien Parrinelle suffered what looked to be a bad knee injury, should have been sent off for a horror challenge on DC's Markus Halsti.
This was a battle between two very different systems. Jesse Marsch's NYRB operated in a modern 4-2-3-1 and attacked in numbers with fluid movement. Sacha Kljestan moved from side to side from his #10 role to create overloads and they got attacking players into the box to attack crosses.
D.C United played with an extremely rigid, functional 4-4-2 akin to what you might see from a Tony Pulis coached side. They defended deep in two banks of four and left the bulk of the attacking up to the front two pair of Alvaro Saborio and Fabian Espindola. Perry Kitchen and Haltsi were tasked with shielding the back four in the middle of midfield but neither are the type of player to provide the creativity to transition into attack. In a 4-4-2 you often need that creative link play to come from the wide midfielders but Chris Rolfe and Nick DeLeon spent the bulk of the first 45 minutes defending deep in their own half. As a result DC United rarely had an outlet ball to transition into attack other than knocking it long towards Espindola and Saborio.
As the game progressed, NYRB took more and more control of possession with their man advantage in midfield. DC were pinned deep in their own half and when they won back possession they couldn't get players up the pitch quick enough to support Saborio and Espindola who were left to attack 2 v. 4 or 2 v. 5.
It's difficult to see a way back for DC. NYRB will boss the second leg even more at home and it's difficult to see where goals will come for Ben Olsen's side.