The fervor surrounding the rivalry between the New York Red Bulls and DC United is one of the most intense spectacles the MLS has to offer. Each club is notorious for its supporters—rabid fans that serve as the combating soul for its respective club.
Tonight, the Eastern Conference Semifinals will be the latest chapter in this historic rivalry.
With millions of people in the Tri-state area still dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy (myself included), the MLS decided to swap the home dates for the playoff series—much to the dismay of some United fans.
Fortunately, players, coaches and members of the front office for DC United are class personified and had no issue with swap.
The fact remains, Red Bull Arena is without power and the region is still struggling to reestablish a mass transit system sufficient enough for a daily commute, let alone a soccer match.
Teams that host the second leg of a home-and-home series advance roughly 60 percent of the time. It is not a significant margin considering they are usually the team with the better record.
The decision to swap home dates was the correct one. Contrary to popular belief, it will have no impact on the outcome of this series.
Both teams enter the match in top form. Despite losing its best player in Dwayne De Rosario (knee), DC is unbeaten in its last seven matches; however, the level of competition it faced was marginal at best.
New England, Philadelphia, Chivas USA, Portland, Toronto, Columbus and Chicago all have one thing in common—none of them are currently in the MLS Playoffs.
DC head coach Ben Olsen has done a remarkable job of galvanizing his team since De Rosario’s injury, but a resolute and undaunted coaching style can only last so long.
With the level of competition rising, DC faces the ominous task of playing one of the most talented teams in the MLS—one that is gelling at the right time.
Like DC, The Red Bulls have not defeated a formidable opponent as of late, but the performance of some of its big-name talent should be disconcerting for United fans.
It was commonplace for New York to concede a goal early. It was as if the opposition started the match already up 1-0, but the Red Bulls did not concede a single goal in the month of October.
There is finally a level of consistent play from its back four, with no other Red Bull playing at a higher level than Mexican legend Rafael Márquez.
Márquez is not the only designated player living up to his name. Tim Cahill’s prolonged adjustment to the MLS was expected, but it seems as if he has finally adapted to the rigors that are synonymous with the league.
There is a question about his availability for tonight’s match (calf), but Dax McCarty would be Cahill’s likely replacement. It should not prove to be an insurmountable injury given McCarty’s consistent play all season.
The series ultimately will be decided by the productivity of the most lethal one-two punch in the MLS—Thierry Henry and Kenny Cooper.
The two have combined for 33 goals with 15 assists and will need to carry the Red Bulls to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Credit is due to DC’s exemplary play as of late. They are an adroit, cohesive unit, but this is not the same Red Bulls team they defeated 4-1 back in April.
Expect an intense series, but one that sees New York advance convincingly.
First Leg Prediction: DC United 2 - 2 New York Red Bulls
Second Leg Prediction: New York Red Bulls 3 - 1 DC United
New York advances 5-3 on aggregate
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