HARRISON, New Jersey — Even without Bradley Wright-Phillips' goal 2 minutes into injury time, the New York Red Bulls would have advanced to the MLS Cup Eastern Conference finals.
Yet the strike settled it without any doubts, giving New York a 1-0 victory over D.C. United Sunday and a 2-0 aggregate win in the two-leg series to put the Red Bulls within one step of the MLS Cup championship game.
It was the second straight year New York has beaten its I-95 rival in the Eastern semifinals, but it took 92 minutes to settle it for sure.
"It was something I was waiting for all game," Wright-Phillips said. "I knew it was going to be a tough game, tight defense."
New York will face the Columbus Crew in another two-game series, with the first leg Nov. 22 in Columbus. The Crew beat Montreal in their semifinal series.
The goal came on Wright-Phillips' second chance within minutes as D.C. United pushed forward needing a goal to force extra time. After D.C. keeper Bill Hamid stretched to push wide a chance by Wright-Phillips 2 minutes earlier, second-half substitute Gonzalo Veron fed the English forward and he dribbled around Hamid to score into an open net.
Before the late drama, neither team created a lot of chances. Hard fouls by both teams limited the opportunities and left both coaches knowing it could turn on a fluke bounce that was converted into a goal.
"It was fully possible at any moment," Red Bulls coach Jesse Marsch said. "That game was alive until the very end. And we kind of knew it would be like that.
"There aren't many playoff series where a team especially in a two-leg series, where a team just walks away with it. So as much as we felt confident in our ability to be aggressive at home and score goals, the playoffs don't often work like that."
The Red Bulls had two of the best moments, hitting the post 1:34 after the opening kickoff and forcing Hamid into a leaping parry in the 63rd minute.
Mike Grella ran only a slow rolling corner and hit a right-footed drive from near the top of the penalty area, only to see it strike the right post less than two minutes into the game.
Sacha Kljestan tested Hamid in the second half, getting the ball with time and space on the left side of the penalty area and trying to curl a right-footed effort into the far upper corner. But Hamid stretched with his left hand to tip it over the bar.
D.C. United's best moments came in the scond half. Fabian Espindola broke in unmarked from the right in the 56th minute, but New York keeper Luis Robles pushed his sharp angled shot wide of the near post. Six minutes later, Bobby Boswell redirected a header by Espindola, but it was easily grabbed by Robles.
"Game plan against New York is to get 15 shots on goal," D.C. coach Ben Olsen said. "It's not going to happen with us. We're going to get a few looks in each half and we got to do well with them. In the end, those situations came about enough in this game to win this game.
"But, we didn't make that happen."