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As a disappointing season winds down, D.C. United preps its road legs for next year

Red Bulls 3, United 3

By Steven Goff

September 27, 2017 at 11:11 PM

HARRISON, N.J. — With playoff hopes long gone and three straight road games before his team's long-awaited farewell to RFK Stadium, D.C. United Coach Ben Olsen is using this late stretch of away matches as a dress rehearsal for 2018.

Before Audi Field is ready, United will probably have to play an MLS-record 12 straight on the road. So Olsen needs to train his squad to find ways to earn points in difficult circumstances and persevere under duress.

Red Bull Arena was an ideal laboratory Wednesday.

Trailing in second-half stoppage time after conceding two late goals, United kept at it, even on the road in the waning days of a disappointing season, and forced an own goal to earn a 3-3 draw with the playoff-contending New York Red Bulls.

United substitute Bruno Miranda fired in a cross. Red Bulls sub Fidel Escobar botched the clearance, and the ball whipped past stunned goalkeeper Luis Robles.

"It's an easy one to fold," Olsen said. "You see a little bit of difference in the mentality in this group with new guys not having as much baggage and understanding that there's still life in this game and something to take out of it."

Related: [D.C. United’s new stadium is coming along, but its home schedule is ‘a Rubik’s Cube’]

United (9-17-5) also scored in first-half stoppage time on Zoltan Stieber's deflected free kick to pull even 1-1.

Four days after scoring four times against San Jose, Patrick Mullins put United ahead in the 70th minute. The Red Bulls (12-11-7) answered with two goals four minutes apart to reclaim the lead with about 15 minutes left.

Regarding the start of next season, Olsen said: "We're going to be on the road for a while. . . . You have to get results, you have to stay in it for that first four or five months. It takes everyone to be committed and everybody on the same page in this league to get anything on the road. The second half, we did a pretty good job of it."

This comeback came about a year since United's late two-goal uprising claimed a 2-2 draw at Red Bull Arena.

United relished doing it again against its biggest rivals.

"We're playing for the Red Bulls to not make the playoffs," captain Steve Birnbaum said. "It's nothing new. They don't like us, and we don't like them. It would be nice to ruin that for them."

Midfielder Paul Arriola, one of five summer additions, believes United's mentality on the road is beginning to change.

"I know there is a big thing in MLS about playing away and it being tough to win away," Arriola, who arrived from the Mexican league, said. "It doesn't matter. I am trying to encourage my teammates to not get into that mentality of sitting in and waiting. We're here to get three points. We should've gotten three points tonight."

With Bill Hamid sidelined with what the team said was a back injury, Steve Clark made his second consecutive start in net. Despite conceding three goals, he also prevented a few others and made a spectacular save on Bradley Wright-Phillips from close range in the second half.

United had been eager to see Clark, a starter for Columbus from 2014 to 2016, who he is well-equipped to become the regular keeper in 2018, should Hamid sign overseas.

The Red Bulls went ahead in the 19th minute when defender Chris Korb misplayed a cross, allowing Tyler Adams to score the first of his two goals.

United pulled even on the final touch of the first half.

Stieber's 25-yard free kick was not expertly struck — he hit it low and at the defensive wall. Wright-Phillips, lined up in the middle of the barrier, casually stuck out his right knee and deflected it past Robles.

United went ahead when Stieber, a wing playing centrally in the second half in place of Luciano Acosta, linked with Russell Canouse, who fed Mullins for an eight-yard finish.

Adams retaliated in the 74th, sending a 15-yard shot between three sets of legs – the last was Wright-Phillips's as he screened Clark — to knot the score.

Moments later, Gonzalo Veron embarked on a long run. Arriola failed to get in front of him and knocked him down. Veron's 78th-minute penalty kick restored New York's lead.

Miranda had entered in the 85th minute, just his third appearance. With United awarded a throw-in, he took the initiative instead of waiting for Nick DeLeon to toss it. He got the ball back and, Arriola said, "made something happen."

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Steven Goff has covered soccer on all levels for The Post since the early 1990s. His beats include D.C. United, MLS and the U.S. national teams.

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