Photo by ISIPhotos.com
By DAN KARELL
HARRISON, N.J. — In the snow, the ball touched nearly every blade of grass on the field, but it never crossed the plane of the goal. D.C. United goalkeeper Bill Hamid made sure of that.
Hamid made seven saves, including a game-saving one in second-half stoppage time, as D.C. United played the New York Red Bulls to a scoreless draw on Saturday afternoon at Red Bull Arena. It was the home debut of the 2013 Red Bulls, and while Thierry Henry, Fabian Espindola, and Jamison Olave all had games to remember, they could not find a way to finish.
The new-look Red Bulls played their best soccer so far this season, getting nearly everyone involved in one form or another, and creating plenty of chances on goal. But time after time, Hamid was there for D.C. United to keep them in the match.
“I think we were very unfortunate in certain situations, not coming up with a goal,” Red Bulls coach Mike Petke after the match. “I give D.C. a lot of credit for coming in here and putting in a strong defensive effort.”
Hamid made his biggest save in the match’s final minutes, saving a header from Red Bull’s right back Brandon Barklage, diving to his right to stop the ball just before it went over the line.
“It did not go over,” Hamid said. “It was close, but I got there before it went over the line.”
The visitors were boosted before the game by the return of captain Dwayne De Rosario to the lineup for the first time since November 18 of last year. The Canadian international played for 76 minutes, before being replaced for fresher legs.
Petke made the decision to change his back four again after their poor performance last week, going with Heath Pearce at left back, and Markus Holgersson in central defense. The move paid dividends, as storming runs forward right back by Pearce and Brandon Barklage added another layer of wing play to the New York attack.
“In a perfect world I want consistency,” Petke said. “But I’m not going to sacrifice for consistency early in the season if I don’t like what I see.
“I’m willing to make changes.”
The Red Bulls finished the match with 24 attempts on goal, and seven shots on target. In comparison, DC United had just four attempts on goal, and just two shots on target, one in each half.
Henry was denied by Hamid twice in the first 20 minutes, with another chance coming a few minutes later from Henry to Espindola that hit the crossbar. Wide midfielders Jonathan Steele and Eric Alexander roamed on the left and right side of the field respectively, working with their center midfielders and wing backs to create space.
Steele proved to be a good crosser of the ball, while Alexander’s guile and patience going forward caused many a defender on D.C. United to miss.
“We threw everything at it, I thought we played really well,” Tim Cahill said. “The underlying fact is I didn’t put the ball in the back of the net, and I definitely take responsibility for that.”
The match was scoreless at halftime, but it seemed as though it was only a matter of time before the announced crowd of 22,022 saw a goal. A ten minute spell in the second half saw them nearly convert on a number of occasions.
Espindola was at his best, when he dribbled through two defenders, and hit a blast of a shot that beat Hamid, but not the crossbar, cannoning off with a loud bang. Henry then had two chances that were easily saved, before it was Alexander’s turn to try and play hero, going for goal on the upper 90 that missed by mere inches.
“He’s an absolute pest,” Dax McCarty said about Espindola. “He’s incredibly unlucky on two or three chances today, and him and Thierry (Henry) could have had two or three goals each tonight.”
Substitutions slowed down the pace of the match, allowing D.C. United a chance to catch their breathe and re-organize defensively.
Juninho made his home debut in the 68th minute to loud cheers, but those cheers disappeared when he was yellow carded ten minutes later, joining Cahill and Espindola in the book.
When referee Mark Geiger blew the final whistle, the scoreline was met with boos from the crowd, who were clearly disappointed with the result. D.C. United head coach Ben Olsen was the opposite, and said he felt fortunate to come away with a point.
“They are a real team, with real players” said Olsen, talking about the Red Bulls. “I really credit our defense, lead of course by Bill Hamid, but Brandon McDonald and Dejan Jakovic anchored in front and it led to a pretty good defense tonight.”
Despite the outcome, Petke kept a positive outlook on his teams performance.
“I’m proud of the boys effort,” Petke said. “Obviously I’m not happy with the result, but it’s one of those moments that this coaching staff came back in and said ‘we liked what we saw’.”
Here are the match highlights: