New York's Major League Soccer team has never advanced past D.C. United in four MLS Cup playoff series.
But the New York Red Bulls took a huge step towards turning over all that history with a 2-0 defeat of their Atlantic Cup rivals at Red Bull Arena on Sunday in the first leg of the Eastern Conference semifinals in the MLS Cup Playoffs, Presented by AT&T.
An imperious Thierry Henry set up goals by Bradley Wright-Phillips and Peguy Luyindula to put his team in firm control of the series, while the East's best team in the regular season looked a shadow of themselves and have their work cut out for them in the return leg on Nov. 8 at RFK Stadium (2:30 pm ET; NBC).
The win was New York's second in the teams' past 10 postseason meetings.
United came in with far more rest than the busy Red Bulls, who were playing their third game in eight days, but could not start their preferred lineup with Luis Silva not fit in time to feature, his striker spot filled by Eddie Johnson.
Meanwhile, Red Bulls coach Mike Petke handed Luyindula a starting role at attacking midfielder as reward for his game-changing substitute appearance in the Knockout Round vs. Kansas City earlier this week.
Red Bulls winger Lloyd Sam almost connected with Henry in the 23rd as he skipped past D.C. left back Taylor Kemp and lofted a teasing cross to the far post, but United goalkeeper Bill Hamid scuttled backwards to parry the ball away from the danger area.
But the home side tightened the screws in the final stages of the first half, taking a stranglehold on possession and pushing United deep into their own half. Dax McCarty's cross/shot was nearly deflected on target by Luyindula, Wright-Phillips fired just wide left after a good passing sequence from New York and later drilled a promising Luyindula pass high of Hamid's goal.
The dam finally broke in the 40th minute as Wright-Phillips snatched his third goal of the postseason to cap a gorgeous Red Bulls move. Sam's incisive angled pass into the D.C. box carved open the defense and when Henry's savvy back heel was dummied by Luyindula, Wright-Phillips had a wide-open look at the net that he did not waste, slamming his finish past a fully exposed Hamid for a 1-0 New York lead.
The goal was the third of the postseason for Wright-Phillips and the 30th of his breakout year in MLS, most of any player in the league in 2014.
D.C. rallied a bit after the break, and forward Fabian Espindola was perhaps unlucky to see a menacing shot deflected out for a corner kick on a set piece. Two minutes later the Argentine went close again with a volley that dipped a second too late, flying high and settling into the roof of Robles' net.
But those chances were few and far between for the Eastern Conference's top seed, who had only their goalkeeper to thank when New York failed to double their advantage in the 67th minute.
First Hamid produced a stellar diving save on Sam's low blast towards the far post, then he stepped up to block Wright-Phillips' follow-up shot after the initial rebound fell to the league's leading scorer deep in the D.C. box.
Hamid was sharp again five minutes later, blocking another Red Bulls chance at the near post with Luyindula draped all over him.
But the veteran Frenchman got the last laugh just moments afterward. Beating a poorly-executed United offside trap to latch on to Henry's excellent pass over the top, Luyindula advanced on Hamid and stroked the ball underneath the D.C. 'keeper to push the Red Bulls' lead to 2-0.
New York could not finish a few more late chances to add to their aggregate advantage, but willstill travel south with confidence in six days' time. D.C., meanwhile, posted a conference-best 11-2-4 record at home during the regular season but will need to overcome a two-goal deficit in order to sink their rivals from New York one more time.