Original rivals kick off rivalry day in MLS

Original rivals kick off rivalry day in MLS
March 15, 2013, 9:15 pm
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‪Dwayne De Rosario‬ excited to be back with United

D.C. United at Red Bulls 

Saturday at 12:30 p.m. on NBC Sports Network

Catch a live stream of all the action here: http://liveextra.nbcsports.com/ 

It is rivalry weekend in Major League Soccer. The league is into its 18th season and has now developed several healthy and intense rivalries, but fittingly the day of rivalry games will begin with the two teams that stirred things up from the very beginning.

D.C. United and the New York Red Bulls will begin MLS’s big day at 12:30 on Saturday at Red Bull Arena. To be sure United has a decisive advantage in the rivalry that includes the battle for the Atlantic Cup trophy. It will be the 73rd meeting between the teams including the playoffs and United has won 26 of the last 34 meetings with only six losses.

The emotion behind a rivalry is rooted in history and the spark was ignited in MLS’s first season when United and the MetroStars, as the Red Bulls were known then, met in the 1996 playoffs. United won the playoff series on a Marco Etcheverry penalty kick in the 89th minute of the decisive game three at RFK Stadium. It kept United on course for its first league title.

Since then there have been other memorable matches and fan interactions. The intensity of the United/Red Bulls rivalry was restored last season when the two teams battled in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Even though United was the higher seed, Hurricane Sandy forced a switch in the order of the games and then a snowstorm postponed the decisive game two of the series by one day.

Backed by busloads of supporters who made the trip to New Jersey, United prevailed on Nick DeLeon’s goal in the 88th minute. United moved forward and the Red Bulls were forced to move on. Hans Backe’s run of three years as head coach of the Red Bulls came to an end and roster changes followed.

One time United defender Mike Petke is now in charge of the Red Bulls and he takes over a side that has underperformed. Defender and designated player Rafael Marquez, leading scorer Kenny Cooper, Joel Lindpere and Sebastian LeToux are among the notable departures. Still the Red Bulls are full of quality led by forward Thierry Henry and midfielder Tim Cahill.

“When you look at them on paper, I don’t think you can name a better team in MLS,” said United’s midfielder Chris Pontius.

To bolster its attack New York signed Fabian Espindola who was let go by Real Salt Lake in a salary cap move. In 125 matches with RSL Espindola scored 35 times and opened his Red Bulls account with two goals in the season-opening thriller that ended in a 3-3 draw in Portland. Another newcomer Eric Alexander scored last week in a 2-1 loss in San Jose.

Once again defense is an issue for the Red Bulls with five goals conceded in two games and they are tied with Chicago and Portland for the worst goals against in MLS. In the final ten minutes of games this season the Red Bulls have allowed three goals leading to a loss in valuable points on the road.

United has only scored one goal this season and one of the players involved is now inured. Lionard Pajoy was able to head home John Thorrington’s attempt from distance to secure the 1-0 win over Real Salt Lake. Later in the match Thorrington was hurt and is out 2-3 months with a severely sprained left knee.

United has been in survival mode and with three points from two matches, the Black and Red can say they survived Dwayne De Rosario’s two game suspension. De Rosario was suspended for a pre-season incident in a game against Philadelphia and is now likely to return to his role as a withdrawn striker.

“We need to be more clinical and that includes myself,” Pontius said after the win over SRL on Saturday. "It’s a bit of rust and it will come especially when you are bringing back a league MVP in (Dwayne) De Rosario and that is only going to ease things up for us.

With Thorrington sidelined, Marcelo Saragosa is expected to slide into the central midfield role next to Perry Kitchen and Pontius and DeLeon on the flanks. Minus Thorrington, United will need Kitchen to be more inventive from his position to go with his ability to disrupt on defense.

“I thought Perry was a stud,” Olsen said after the win over Real Salt Lake. “He just has to constantly remind himself he is a really good soccer player as well as a physical presence out there. When he does that he can play midfield on any team in this league.”

Beyond the tactical matchups, United and Red Bulls is at its heart a heated rivalry. In 18 years it seldom has disappointed.

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