A day after a snow storm forced the postponement of their second-leg decider on the Eastern Conference semifinals, the New York Red Bulls and D.C. United will return to Red Bull Arena tonight to take care of unfinished business.
The Red Bulls will host D.C. United at Red Bull Arena tonight after Wednesday night’s snow storm forced the second leg to be postponed and both teams will be fighting to advance to the Eastern Conference finals after playing to a 1-1 draw last Saturday at RFK Stadium.
The postponed match did provide us a glimpse into what both teams had in mind for the second leg in terms of lineups. For the Red Bulls, Kenny Cooper was inserted into the starting lineup while Rafa Marquez was healthy enough to make a return from the calf injury that forced him out on Saturday.
For D.C., the suspension of Andy Najar will mean Robbie Russell in the lineup at right back. Left back is also influx, with Lewis Neal set to deputize in place of the injured Chris Korb.
The battle of goalkeepers will also be something to keep an eye on. Luis Robles was heroic in goal for New York in the first leg, while Bill Hamid scored an own goal in an otherwise sturdy outing.
Both teams will also be playing with the knowledge that a victory means they will be the higher seed in the Eastern Conference final after No. 1 seed Sporting Kansas City was eliminated by the Houston Dynamo. Both teams also know that they will host the MLS Cup Final if they get that far (after San Jose’s loss to the Los Angeles Galaxy eliminated the Earthquakes, the team with the best record in MLS during the regular season).
Here is a closer look at tonight’s decisive second leg:
NEW YORK RED BULLS vs. D.C. UNITED
WHEN: at Red Bull Arena: Thursday, 7:30 p.m. ET (NBC Sports Network).
FIRST LEG: The Red Bulls fought off a poor start to earn a 1-1 draw against United in the national’s capital last Saturday in a wild game that saw a penalty kick saved, two own goals and a red card to Andy Najar for throwing the ball at the referee after being whistled for a foul.
SEASON SERIES: The two rivals ended the regular season series even at 1-1-1. D.C. United won, 4-1, at home on April 22, the Red Bulls took a 3-2 victory at Red Bull Arena on June 24 and the two teams tied, 2-2, at RFK Stadium on August 29.
KEY PLAYERS – D.C. UNITED: F Chris Pontius, M Nick DeLeon, GK Bill Hamid, D Brandon McDonald RED BULLS: F Thierry Henry, M Tim Cahill, M Dax McCarty, D Rafa Marquez
WHAT WE LEARNED IN THE FIRST LEG: The Red Bulls continue to look a shaky team on the road, and goalkeeper Luis Robles had to come up big in order for them to escape RFK Stadium with a result. D.C. United, although less experienced in the playoffs, look a team that is confident to knock off the talented Red Bulls.
MATCH-UP TO WATCH: Chris Pontius vs. Connor Lade. Pontius had his way with Lade for much of the game on Saturday and you can expect Olsen to try and exploit that mismatch some more in the second leg. Backe has talked about helping Lade defensively, so it will be interesting what tactics each coach deploys in this duel.
OUTLOOK: The two rivals want nothing more than to advance in the playoffs while eliminating the other, but while both may want to play offensively, the weather conditions might prevent them from doing so. Expect both teams to be safe with the ball in the opening minutes as they try to acclimatize to the weather.
PREDICTION: The Red Bulls are a stronger and different team at home than when playing on the road, so they should be able to finish their business against United, especially if Kenny Cooper earns a start. Red Bulls win a close one, 2-1.
What do you think of this series? Think the Red Bulls will win at home? Do you see Pontius helping United to a win? See D.C. United being motivated by the postponement of the match on Wednesday?
Share your thoughts below.