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ASN Playoff Preview

D.C. United and New York Red Bulls Square Off—Again

Big stars. Great match-ups. A regional rivalry. Two teams with history. The D.C. United-New York Red Bulls playoff series has a little something for everyone. Here's our breakdown.
BY Jon Arnold Posted
November 02, 2012
3:52 PM
Editor's Note: ASN will preview every MLS playoff match/series. Create your ideal Starting XI for the New York Red Bulls or D.C. United.

INTRO: It’s an old-school MLS rivalry in the Eastern Conference Semifinals with D.C. United taking on the New York Red Bulls. The first leg of the series (November 3, 8 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network) will be played in D.C. after Hurricane Sandy caused logistical difficulties in New York. That means the second match (November 7, 8 p.m. Eastern, NBC Sports Network) will take place at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J. United is undefeated in its past seven MLS matches, though it certainly was able to feast on some lesser competition during that run. That’s not an option now that it’s playoff time. The Red Bulls boast a competitive lineup featuring ASN 100 players like Dax McCarty and Heath Pearce. Plus some French guy named Henry.

HISTORY: D.C. United put a beating on the Red Bulls at RFK Stadium in their first meeting of the season, but the Red Bulls followed that up with a strong win of their own in New York. In their most recent meeting, Wilman Conde scored a late equalizer to spoil the celebration of Dwayne De Rosario’s 100th goal in the regular season.

But to only discuss this year’s matches between these two teams would be a disservice to the history of the I-95 rivalry that spans back to MLS’ inception. D.C. has historically gotten the better of New York, leading the all-time league match total 31-9-20, winning playoff ties in 1996 and 2006.

MATCHUPS: The Red Bulls have taken an international approach in assembling their talented team, with Thierry Henry, Tim Cahill, and Rafa Marquez among the ranks. Yet guys like McCarty and Pearce are the glue guys that hold the team together. Another wild card is how Kenny Cooper, who is working to improve his headers and flick-ons, will be able to partner with Henry against a quality defense. Should they get past that line, Bill Hamid provides the last line of defense for United. Hamid has overcome the worst moment of his career to put himself back in the conversation for call-ups from Jurgen Klinsmann.

The Red Bulls defense will have to contend with a midfield that lost Dwayne De Rosario but still possesses young U.S. national team hopefuls Chris Pontius and Nick DeLeon. Should the young guns range too far up field, Perry Kitchen holds things down in the defensive midfield. Like the rest of his teammates, Kitchen knows the Red Bulls well. He told ASN Thierry Henry is the toughest player he’s ever lined up against.

TACTICS: Olsen has used either a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-4-2 since De Rosario’s injury. “Obviously they’ve got an incredible record since the unfortunate injury to DeRosario," Pearce told Big Apple Soccer. "We prepare for them the same. Nick DeLeon provides spark on the right side in front of Andy Najar, while Pontius mans the left. Kitchen and Marcelo Saragosa make up the meat of the midfield. The acquisition of Lionard Pajoy, in exchange for Danny Cruz in a trade with Philadelphia, has given United another option up top.

The Red Bulls line up with either a 4-1-3-2 or a 4-3-1-2 with Henry and Cooper up top and Tim Cahill tucked behind. Versatile midfielder (and former D.C. United player) McCarty does it all for the Red Bulls, but the team relies on Henry to make things happen offensively. If he’s not getting the ball, the Red Bulls aren’t getting goals. United manager Ben Olsen sees this match coming down to “a team versus some really experienced, good individuals.” A bit of a dig? Perhaps.

PREDICTION: The Red Bulls have heaps of talent but also have a bad habit of checking out of matches, especially on defense. You’d think the playoffs would be the type of occasion they’ll be up for, but don’t be surprised if a hungry United squad tries to get a strong leg up early in the first match. Do so and they’ll send New York manager Hans Backe to an early exit in his last season with the club.

READER FEEDBACK: How will the venue change affect this series? Will the Red Bulls be able to avoid giving up an early goal? Can Kenny Cooper continue his hot scoring streak against stronger opposition? We want to hear from you! Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

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