Red Bulls defender Wilman Conde. File Photo: Vera / DailyHarrison.com
For years, RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C. has been a house of horrors for the New York Red Bulls. Even going back to their almost forgotten years as the MetroStars, the team would travel to the nation’s capital and come away with a hard-fought loss. It was inevitable. Just mark it down as a loss and move on to the next one.
Wednesday night, the Red Bulls were headed for another disappointment in D.C. They trailed their archrival by a goal as the clock was winding down. They needed a miracle.
And they got one from a very unlikely source.
Defender Wilman Conde, whose season began with a groin injury and was followed with a domestic violence arrest, made his biggest impact of the season and on his 30th birthday, no less.
Conde, who hardly uses his right foot for anything, scored a goal by making a rare attacking move, blasted a right-footed shot from beyond the 25-yard line into the upper right corner of the net in the 88th minute, giving the Red Bulls a crucial 2-2 tie with D.C. United and another point in their pursuit of an MLS Eastern Conference playoff berth.
It was the first goal of the season for Conde.
The Red Bulls (13-7-7) moved to within a point of first-place Sporting Kansas City with seven games to play. The two teams will meet at Red Bull Arena on Wednesday, Sept. 19.
Needless to say, the play surprised Red Bulls head coach Hans Backe.
“Yeah, I was definitely surprised, especially with his right foot,” Backe said. “He should buy some New Jersey lottery tickets. It wasn’t just his play at the end of the game. He was probably one of our best players at left back. It’s great to see him adapt so quickly from being a center back his whole life to play left back and do well.”
Jan Gunnar Solli, who was playing alongside Conde for most of the game, but had just left the game for Kenny Cooper in the 83rd minute, was equally amazed by Conde’s shot.
“Teemu (Tainio) had the best comment, the comment of the year, when he said, `Don’t shoot, it’s your right foot,’” Solli said. “And then there was this reaction after, like you couldn’t believe it. Everything happened so fast. He hits the shot and it goes in from that far out? That’s just football.”
The miraculous tie overshadowed D.C United (and former Red Bull) forward Dwayne DeRosario’s performance. DeRosario, who played briefly with the Red Bulls at the start of last season, then was traded for Dax McCarty, scored the 100th goal of his MLS career, a fantastic bang-bang header that caught Red Bulls goalie Bill Gaudette by surprise and gave the United a 2-1 lead at the time in the 68th minute.
Gaudette, who is now headed to play some international games for Puerto Rico while the Red Bulls have a two-week break, admitted he made a mistake on the play by leaving the goal.
“It’s a split-second decision, good, bad or indifferent,” Gaudette said. “But as the leader back there, I have to make sure I’m making the right decisions all the time. It’s my responsibility to make sure the ball stays out of the net. That’s what it comes down to. Twice it got by me tonight. They were soft goals, but credit to the boys for coming back.”
The Red Bulls took a 1-0 lead early on. In the 19th minute, Joel Lindpere took a fine pass from Thierry Henry, who returned to action after missing Sunday’s match for maternity leave. Lindpere’s left-footed blast eluded D.C. United goalie Bill Hamid and the Red Bulls were in control
The Red Bulls took a 1-0 lead in the 19th minute when midfielder Joel Lindpere took a pass from Thierry Henry in the left side of the box and drilled a shot past D.C. United goalkeeper Bill Hamid. It was Lindpere’s fourth goal of the season.
The lead was short lived.
In the 21st minute, the Red Bulls’ shoddy backline defense hurt them once again. D.C. United’s Nick DeLeon maneuvered his way through two Red Bull defenders, beat Heath Pearce to a loose ball, then redirected a pass from DeRosario on a shot that Gaudette could have stopped. DeLeon’s goal tied the match at 1-1, setting the stage for DeRosario’s phenomenal goal in the second half.
Backe chose not to start Sebastien Le Toux and Cooper, going for a more defensive lineup instead. The team still surrendered two goals. Both Le Toux and Cooper entered the match as reserves, Le Toux in the 75th minute for Tainio and Cooper in the 83rd minute for Solli. Newcomer Lloyd Sam, signed last week, made his Red Bulls debut as a reserve.
Backe thought that the Red Bulls should have emerged victorious. Instead, they remain winless on the road for eight straight matches dating back to May. They are 0-4-4 in those eight matches.
“We should have won this game,” Backe said. “In the second half, we totally controlled it. I was just waiting for us to score the winning goal. Unfortunately, we made two mistakes, very costly mistakes when you play on the road. When you score twice on the road, you should win the game.”
The Red Bulls are now off until Sept. 15, when they play host to the Columbus Crew at Red Bull Arena. Game time is 7 p.m.