There are rivalries in MLS that get more attention these days, but the original grudge match in the league is still the one with the most flavor on the field. D.C. United will face the New York Red Bulls in today's first leg of the Eastern Conference Semifinals, and it wasn't too long ago that the same pairing at the same stage of the season resulted in one of the great moments in club history. NYRB - having scored a 90th minute gamewinner to end Sporting KC's reign as champions on Thursday night - is on short rest, but they're also one of the best home teams in MLS. United, on the other hand, will not want to join the long list of #1 seeds to fail at this stage.
Let's do this thing.
Kickoff Time: 4:00pm Eastern
Venue: Red Bull Arena (Harrison, NJ)
TV/Streaming: DMV viewers will have the game available on CSN Washington, while nationally the game will be televised on Univision Deportes in Spanish. MLSsoccer.com will also be streaming the game for free if you'd prefer to use your computer. For those relying on a smartphone, MLS Live (if you have it) and the Univision Deportes app are your options.
Projected D.C. United starting XI: No prizes for guessing this one. Chris Rolfe has traveled to New Jersey for the game, but as he's been out for a while I don't think Ben Olsen will be changing his lineup. That means Bill Hamid starting in goal; a back four of Sean Franklin, Bobby Boswell, Steve Birnbaum, and Taylor Kemp; a midfield featuring Nick DeLeon, Perry Kitchen, Davy Arnaud, and Chris Pontius; and up top we'll see Fabian Espindola and Eddie Johnson.
Rolfe may sub into this game for Pontius if United is behind, but if the game is going well we'll see Chris Korb come on (a move Olsen has used more than once recently) instead, which means a reshuffle. It wouldn't surprise me to see Olsen finish the game having made less than three subs, particularly if the score remains tied. However, we could see a late move to a 451 with Lewis Neal coming in for a forward in that case.
Match previews: Ben's lineup prediction indicates that he expects the same eleven I do, while our staff guesses at the final score unanimously predict a good result in this first leg (nearly everyone says Espindola will score today as well). MLSsoccer's preview notes that United is 6W-2D-1L in playoff games against NYRB, which reminds me that back in the day the MLS playoffs were actually settled in a best-of-three series, which was crazy but did actually reward your regular season performance more than we do today. Steve Goff took a look at United's center back duo for the Washington Post, while Matt Doyle summed both teams up well (plus, he included a gif of every DC fan's favorite or second-favorite Thierry Henry moment) over at MLSsoccer.com.
Prediction: It doesn't take any special genius to predict that this game will be fractious, heated, and tense. I see the Red Bulls starting the game attacking hard in an effort to bank goals while they still have some energy. United should be able to weather the storm without falling behind by more than one, and in the final 30 minutes that Thursday night game the Metros found themselves playing in will come home to roost. Give me a 1-1 draw with goals from Bradley Wright-Phillips and Fabian Espindola. And make no mistake: A scoring draw in MLS's playoff format (now using away goals as a tiebreaker) is a good result.
What are you drinking? I was sent home from a party yesterday with a variety of beers, so I think I'll be having something made by Sam Adams.
This is the place to be for pre-game, in-game, and post-game discussion and anger at those charlatans to the north.