This Saturday, Major League Soccer has scheduled its first-ever “Rivalry Week.” The day will feature seven of the league’s top rivalry games starting at 12:30 p.m. ET with the New York Red Bulls vs. D.C. United match and concluding with the Portland Timbers vs. Seattle Sounders match at 8 p.m. ET with five other games sandwiched in between.
The center-piece of this day-long soccer fiesta will be “The Breakaway”, a two and half hour show that MLS is deeming as their version of the NFL’s “Red Zone” show. “The Breakaway” will run concurrently through four of the mid-day matchups.
While there are many tantalizing matchups on the docket for Saturday, particularly the game between Seattle and Portland, the Red Bulls-D.C. United game is definitely the one not to miss. Here’s why.
Mike Petke v. Ben Olsen
One of the best storylines coming out of the New York-D.C. game is the coaching matchup between former teammates Mike Petke and Ben Olsen.
Petke and Olsen played together for parts of three seasons with D.C. United, winning the MLS Cup in 2004 together.
Although Olsen struggled a bit in his first full season as D.C. United manager in 2011 with the team going 9-13-12 (win-loss-draw format), Olsen turned things around radically for the club in 2012 leading the team to a 17-10-7 record, second place in the Eastern Conference and the Eastern Conference finals in the playoffs.
It would not be surprising if Petke, in his first year as coach of the New York Red Bulls, faces a similarly difficult first season.
The Red Bulls have squandered first-half leads in both of their games so far this year and have looked poor doing it. In Week One, the Red Bulls lost a two-goal lead away to the Portland Timbers in a match that striker Thierry Henry looked like he didn’t want to be playing in.
In Week Two, the Red Bulls, once again up in an away match, let San Jose score two goals in the final ten minutes.
Petke’s comments after the San Jose match show that he may already be feeling the pressure. After the game, Petke called out his players saying, "We need guys to man up and take control and battle. That’s what we need, especially late in games.”
The Red Bulls 2012 season was deemed a failure by many pundits and Red Bulls’ fans alike. However, in 2012, much of the blame was dropped at the feet of Rafa Marquez. So far in 2013, Thierry Henry is off to a poor start and Tim Cahill has yet to produce. Whether or not Petke can get his star-studded team to perform remains the team’s biggest question mark.
What happens with Roy Miller?
Roy Miller had what can only be described as a shocker last Sunday night against the San Jose Earthquakes.
First, in the 83rd minute, Miller was beaten on the back post as he failed to track his runner and Adam Jahn put away the equalizer.
Then, in the 90th minute, Miller was called for a handball after stopping another effort by Jahn with Miller bringing his hand above his head for the block.
To make matters even worse, Miller then encroached on the ensuing penalty which Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles saved, so the kick was retaken. Chris Wondolowski scored on his second chance and New York went down in defeat.
To make matters even worse than that, on Wednesday, Miller told MLSSoccer.com that he encroached on the first penalty on purpose saying “I did it so that if [Wondolowski] made it, he would have to do it again and then he [would] miss. I had the unfortunate luck that Luis saved the initial attempt.”
Miller’s statement, however, makes no sense because encroachment by the defending player on a penalty that is scored does not force a retake.
Seeing if Roy Miller retains his starting place in New York’s lineup remains to be seen.
The D.C.-New York Rivalry Just Keeps Getting Better
Finally, D.C. United and the New York Red Bulls have one of the oldest and best rivalries in Major League Soccer.
In 2012, that rivalry showcased some of the craziest and most bizarre storylines of the season as the two were matched up in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
In the playoff series, D.C. United, because it was the higher seed, was supposed to have the advantage of playing the second leg of the home-and-away series at home.
However, D.C. gave up that advantage and hosted the first leg because of the after effects of Hurricane Sandy.
When the first leg took place in D.C., it turned out to be an absolutely jaw-dropping affair. The game ultimately ended 1-1 on two separate own goals and featured one of the stupidest red cards in the history of the game. And, all of this happened in a ten-minute span.
First, in the 61st minute, Roy Miller, fired home a D.C. United cross into his own net.
Then, just four minutes later, D.C. United goalkeeper Bill Hamid somehow bungled the ball into his own net on a New York corner kick.
Six minutes after that, D.C. United right-back Andy Najar committed an act of madness picking up two consecutive cards by fouling the Red Bulls Joel Lindpere from behind and then, while being carded for that offense, threw the ball at the official.
In the second leg of the matchup, when D.C. finally did travel to New York four days after the first leg, the New York leg of the series was once again cancelled.
This time the delay came in the form of a massive snowstorm. MLS kept hope alive until just before kickoff that the game might be played and MLS Commissioner Don Garber was even out of the field shoveling off the snow as it came down.
Eventually, the game was called off and rescheduled for the next day, but D.C. United manager Ben Olsen still managed to heat the rivalry up even without a game being played. He stated that D.C. wanted to play the game, “My concern is that my boys wanted to play, and I thought it was a playable field at this point.”
In contrast to Olsen’s willingness to go at it despite the weather, then New York Red Bulls coach Hans Backe was repeatedly and publicly pleading that the match be cancelled saying, “It’s a different sport… it’s, in a way, a joke and all about luck. It’s a conference semifinal; it has to be more serious.
Olsen’s will to play fired up D.C. United supporters, especially the group of 700 fans who made the trip by bus only to see the game cancelled again. United players, before going back to the locker room once the game was officially called off, went into the stands to thank their traveling fans.
The next day, when the game was played, the wildness of the Eastern Conference semifinal matchup continued.
In the 69th minute, Bill Hamid was shown a red card after taking out Red Bulls forward Kenny Cooper on a breakaway. Cooper scored the ensuing penalty, but it was called back for encroachment and the second attempt was saved.
Still, with the series tied 1-1, New York had a man advantage with 20 minutes to play in regulation, plus extra time.
However, New York only kept that advantage for all of six minutes. In the 75th minute, Rafa Marquez, who was already carrying a yellow card, went into United winger Chris Pontius with a studs up challenge. Marquez received his second yellow and gave D.C. United a reprieve from the man-down situation.
Then, in the 88th minute, United winger Nick DeLeon found the winner with a beautiful finish, ending New York’s season and adding another great chapter to this wonderful rivalry.
Make sure to catch the first installment of this year’s D.C. United vs. Red Bulls matchup this Saturday.
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