Tonight, for the first time, D.C. United will play at Yankee Stadium, as New York City FC and their bevy of stars open up the House the
Ruth Steinbrenner Built for a special, streaming-only (at least in the DMV) affair. But when Ben Olsen's side take the diamond pitch, they will know they can win on NYCFC's infamously narrow confines because just a few years ago, they did just that against an expansion team that had yet to be beaten or tied at home - a record far better than Jason Kreis's club can boast. I refer, of course, to the Portland Timbers.
2010 2011 Timbers team was worse than bad on the road, but through the first months of their expansion season, they were invincible at home, winning their first six home games in their MLS existence. Then D.C. United came to town and put an end to all that in what would be a memorable game in an otherwise forgettable season for the Black-and-Red.
You can - and should - make 10 minutes to watch the highlights above, because I think some of what they show can be instructive for United tonight. Much has been made here and elsewhere about NYCFC's aging stars, at least one of whom is unlikely to play tonight, and how their midfield works (or doesn't) both with and without the likes of Frank Lampard and Andrea Pirlo. But the story at the start of the season - ignoring Lampard's will-he-won't-he tryst in Manchester - was the field at Yankee Stadium. No matter what Jason Kreis might say, the field is narrow. Crazy narrow. Pinball narrow. Indoor soccer narrow.
And so was the surface at what was then Jeld-Wen Field. Even with room to expand it (as Caleb Porter has since done), John Spencer, a long-time disciple of Dominick Kinnear in Houston, insisted the field be as narrow as possible to prevent more expansive teams from exploiting the space. So what we saw were generally torrid, harried games - exactly what Spencer had built his team to play. So, how did los Capitalinos survive?
I'm going to sound like ChestRockwell for a second, but focus is critical, as a momentary lapse is magnified by the tight quarters and the increased speed at which players have to make decisions. And, as is so often the case no matter the survace, set pieces are likely to decide the game. In that first game in Portland, United's first goal came off a long throw-in, and each team scored on a penalty before Josh Wolff put the game to bed after PTFC had thrown suicidal numbers forward in search of an equalizer.
I'd expect a similar pattern to define tonight's matchup in the Bronx. Let us know in the comments what else sticks out to you and what lessons United might take into the Big Apple from their inaugural win in the Rose City.