WASHINGTON – The New York Red Bulls will head into the second leg of their Eastern Conference Semifinal series against D.C. United level on aggregate, and they can thank Luis Robles for that.
The Red Bulls' starting goalkeeper was arguably the Man of the Match in Saturday night's 1-1 draw against D.C. United in the first leg at RFK Stadium, putting together a sublime first half that included thwarting Red Bulls bogeyman, Chris Pontius, on a penalty kick.
Making Robles’ heroic performance against United even more impressive is that it came in just his fifth game since last December. The Red Bulls fans in attendance made sure to thank him by chanting his name well after the final whistle was blown on a cold night in the nation’s capital, where he faced the team that drafted him back in 2007.
“It was two big saves [in the first half],” Backe told reporters after the game about Robles’ outing. “He’s solid, good with crosses, good to get the game going. This is just overall, a very solid goalie.”
The first of those two saves came early on, with Robles getting low to deny a swerving shot from United left back Chris Korb in the second minute.
Robles also had to command his defenders and area well, as the Red Bulls surrendered several set pieces to their inspired rivals in a lackluster opening 25 minutes for New York.
“The first shot for sure [was tougher than the PK],” Robles said of his save on Korb. “I know it sounds silly, but only because you want to get your touches in. But you’re hoping for a pass back or a header right to you. In that case, it worked out for us.”
The moment that could prove the turning point in the series came in the 33rd minute. After Connor Lade was whistled for a penalty kick for handling the ball, Robles came up big to deny Pontius from the spot, diving low and to his right to deny a player who has scored five times against New York this season.
“I have to give credit to our video guy. He does a good job of preparing us for the game, so last night when we sat down with the goalkeeper coach, we had the preparation. I saw there was a tendency for him to do something. He waited for the goalkeeper to move and all through the previous penalties I saw, he waited and waited.
“The most important thing for me was to hold the last second. I think as a forward, if you’re waiting until the very last second and the goalkeeper doesn’t move, it kind of forces them to not hit it as well as they’d like to.”
Robles was not as busy in the second half and there was nothing he could do when teammate Roy Miller scored an own goal to put United up momentarily. But he came through when his team needed him most, including on a courageous stop on Pontius, who had broken in on goal in the 75th minute.
Captain Thierry Henry summed up the sentiments of the squad after witnessing the performance by Robles: “You always need some great goalkeepers around you if you want to go far in the competition."
Franco Panizo covers the New York Red Bulls for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at Franco8813@gmail.com.