Major League Soccer's first rivalry will be sparked once again today as D.C. United hosts the New York Red Bulls in the MLS playoffs. United, the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference, got here via an arguably prototypical 2-1 win over the New England Revolution mid-week, while the Supporters Shield winning Red Bulls will start - and hopefully end - their playoff push here in the conference semifinals.
While there is no doubt that the Red Bulls are favorites to advance to the next round, United has heard that story all year long. Most recently, they were an unpopular pick to advance past the knockout round despite playing that game at home against the Revs, who entered with the worst record against MLS playoff teams of any club in the postseason field. If anything, DC is a team that may be more comfortable hearing doubts than they are when being lauded.
Today's task will be as difficult as they come, though. Team captain Bobby Boswell is suspended, leaving the back four to deal with MLS's highest-scoring attack without their leader and most experienced player. With away goals a major factor in this two-legged aggregate series, a lot is riding on the Black-and-Red's ability to win at home without giving away a goal or two in the process.
D.C. United Projected Starting 11: Normally we'd see some rotation with United having played twice already this week, but I highly doubt that Ben Olsen is going to change much of anything at this point unless he has to. Bill Hamid will start in goal, while there will be one change to the back four: Kofi Opare will step in for the suspended Boswell, joining Sean Franklin, Steve Birnbaum, and Taylor Kemp. In the midfield, Nick DeLeon and Chris Rolfe - dropping back to cover for the injured Chris Pontius - will man the flanks while Perry Kitchen and Markus Halsti carry on with their central pairing. Up front, Fabian Espindola will partner with Alvaro Saborio.
Off the bench, Olsen's substitution patterns indicate that Saborio will come off for Jairo Arrieta before all is said and done. Michael Farfan - on the left if the result is going OK or in the middle if things are going badly - will probably appear as well, and you can never count out Conor Doyle as a potential sub either. The absent regulars may mean room for a wild card on the bench like Miguel Aguilar - remember, NYRB has had issues with speed down the flanks - or Facundo Coria as well.
Match previews: Here's our preview from first thing this morning.
Referee: Fotis Bazakos
What are you drinking?: I'm leaning pretty strongly towards a stout or porter of some kind. I'll be picking something up on my way to Lot 8. This might turn into an IPA if the weather feels warm enough between my house and the liquor store though.
Prediction: I have no fear of any MLS team at RFK Stadium, and I'm expecting a thrilling game. Sadly, as this is not a one-off game, not all wins are created equal. I think NYRB will score early, prompting a furious response from United. I like Espindola, Saborio, and Birnbaum all scoring within the 45-50 minutes that follow the opener, but I also think Bradley Wright-Phillips bags a gut-punch of a second goal in the final 15 minutes. 3-2 is not the worst result by any means, but given United's road goal-scoring woes it pretty much demands that the Black-and-Red hold the most productive attack in MLS to 0 or 1 goals on their home turf.
This is your place for pre-game, in-game, and post-game discussion.