Cincinnati U-23’s win over D.C. United in Eastern Conference playoffs

Brenner scores 3 to beat D.C United, putting Cincinnati in MLS playoffs for first time

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — After a strong start, Cincinnati coach Alan Mullings isn’t sure what to expect from his team.

Still, the Red Bull U-23’s earned a 3-1 win over D.C. United on Saturday night in a key Eastern Conference playoff spot. The Reds will play third-seeded Montreal after the clubs square off on Tuesday.

“I’ve got to think of it like it’s a game that’s at stake. If you lose, you’re out of the playoffs,” Mullings said. “You win, and we’re in.”

Cincinnati finished first in the East, qualifying for the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup next spring. D.C. went 4-0-3 in the regular season, missing the playoffs with a tie against New York.

It was a much tougher matchup on the field than it looked on the sidelines and that was evident as Cincinnati dominated its first two shots in the second half.

Mullings called on his team to play like they did in the second half to grab the momentum and take control of the game after the first goal, a goal from Michael Nelson near midfield by a teammate.

Midfielder Adam Najem, in his second game with Cincinnati, had a header from a cross by winger Scott Thomsen, as well.

The Red Bulls’ first shot of the second half was a blast by goalkeeper Evan Newton to keep things tight. With Cincinnati trailing 2-1, Nelson delivered the second of their two goals in the 53rd minute.

Nelson took a pass from Thomsen on the edge of the box and fired a shot from the 5-yard box to give the Reds a 3-1 lead. D.C. goalkeeper Matt Pickens denied the Reds’ second goal, having a clear shot from Nelson on a deflection off a defender to his right.

“I’m not really sure what to expect,” Mullings said. “We’ve got 12 more games now with the tie-breaker against Montreal if we win, and I don’t know if we need to lose three in

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