DC started the stronger of the two teams but their early pressure went unrewarded and it was the Red Bulls who made the breakthrough in the 19th minute.
Joel Lindpere collected a pass from Thierry Henry before firing his shot past a diving Bill Hamid in the United goal.
New York's lead only lasted two minutes, with the capital city side drawing level through Nick DeLeon when the midfielder easily slotted the ball home from close range.
Brandon McDonald should have put DC ahead before half-time but the defender's close-range header was well saved by Bill Gaudette.
Tim Cahill had three opportunities to give the Red Bulls the lead after the break and the Australian's lack of a clinical instinct in front of goal was punished in the 68th minute when Dwayne De Rosario's header from distance nestled in the bottom corner of the net.
New York pushed for a late equaliser and D.C. looked to have survived until the 88th minute, when Wilman Conde smashed home a powerful effort to claim a point for the Red Bulls.