D.C. United takes on its old foe, the New York Red Bulls, in the Eastern Conference semifinal first leg on Sunday. It had to happen this way and it is the sequel to the epic series these two teams put on in 2012. We think that this game will be a tight affair, like recent playoff games between these two teams, but let us know what you think in the comments!
It was always going to be this way, wasn't it? The New York Red Bulls are feeling good about themselves after a 90th minute game-winner over a Sporting Kansas City team that came to bunker (note to Peter Vermes: We will remember this the next time you complain about anyone else's tactics). However, the Red Bulls are relying on MLS's oldest starting eleven, and Thierry Henry is playing through achilles tendonitis in both legs. There will be drama and controversy, because this is DC-Metros, but ultimately I think the Red Bulls won't have the gas to produce two goals on short rest against a United side that has been ruthless in this sort of scenario all year. 1-1, goals from BWP and Fabian Espindola. Oh, and Roy Miller will do something dumb. Sun rises in the east, etc.
Facing an older and presumably tired Red Bulls squad on deck, having a D.C. United squad with its own vets, albeit ones with extensive postseason experience, is to borrow a phrase, why they are here. 1-0 to DC, with an Espindola goal serving as a security blanket coming back to RFK.
Following a week in which MLS announced its new star-studded ownership group for LAFC, and threw a scare into D.C. United fans by absconding the Black-and-Red's distinctive colors, the league returns to its roots with the oldest of old-school rivalries on Sunday. D.C. United vs New York Red Bulls. Good vs Evil. All that is good and right in MLS vs all that is not. A legacy of tradition and trophies vs a history of futility and failure. You get the picture. But, the Red Bulls are producing results right now, with BWP on fire, Henry looking motivated, Cahill always dangerous, and others (Dax, Sam, Olave, and Robles) capable of big moments. The key for United is getting a result in what will turn out to be a much more difficult match than expected. And get a result they will, with Espindola punishing New York for letting him go last season, and Hamid standing on his head to keep the furious New York comeback capped at 1-1.
Adam M Taylor
Put me with those saying that this will be a close and difficult match, even if the Metros' and their roster of geriatrics are coming off short rest after the Knockout/Playin/Wildcard/Garber Round. Mike Petke has his team playing a strong possession game, and Loyd Sam has stepped up his isolation attacking to a new level late this season - he'll be across from Taylor Kemp, whose 1v1 defending is probably the weakest part of his game. United will get the result they need to put themselves in good position for the return leg at RFK, though: Give me 1-1 with goals from Peguy Luyindula (assisted by Sam) in the first half and Nick DeLeon (via Eddie Johnson) after the break.
This is the matchup we deep down wanted to see, not just because it was a closer trip to Harrison than it is to Kansas City, but because we love beating the Metros in the playoffs. And deep down, we know Ben Olsen loves it too. With the new away goals rule in effect, I think United will come out swinging to put some points on the board and come home to a raucous RFK with some away goals in hand. Espindola dishes out some work on the tired Metros defense, scoring one and assisting Eddie Johnson on another. A Sam goal is just a consolation prize as United come home with a 2-1 victory and a leg up in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
I'm nervous about this game, actually. The Red Bulls showed a resilience in the knock-out match against SKC that we normally don't see from them. They are usually not a comeback team. But Bradley Wright-Phillips is as hot as they come right now. And every game from here on out could be Henry's last MLS outing. The show in Harrison could be his finale in front of a home crowd. So, tired legs or no, I expect to see vastly more spirited play from NYRB than we're used to. The good news is that we'll mostly control the midfield. And our defense is the best in the business to handle BWP-Henry connections. But they're going to score. BWP gets one because that's what he does. Henry gets one because he'll be so hungry for it. But grit will keep the energy drink at bay. EJ scores, and so does Espindola. And whenever EJ scores, we do not lose. Game ends frustratingly for NYRB, 2-2.
Tired and old, but at home and feeling good from their win over the Sporks, the Red Bulls aren't going to be an easy opponent. I see this being a close one, but the Black-and-Red are going to return to RFK with a point. I'll say 1-1 for this, with BWP getting RBNY on the board and Espindola ensuring we get the result. Also predicting frustrating calls, angry Ben Olsen, and in the end, one we won't forget.
The New York Red Bulls are far better at home than they are on the road, but this is their third game in eight days and their team is somewhat old. With all that said, I think that United can go and get two goals on the road, for a 2-1 win, and take control bringing the series back to RFK Stadium next weekend.