The New York Red Bulls victory over Sporting KC tonight means the Black and Red will travel up to Red Bulls Stadium to open up their MLS Cup Playoff campaign on Sunday.
DC United took two of the three games against NYRB this season but with this rivalry any past record means very little. With so much attention paid to the West Coast, namely Seattle and LA Galaxy, the rivalry between NYRB and United can sometimes be overlooked but it is one of the fiercest in MLS.
DC has long been one of the preeminent clubs in MLS and the most successful along the Eastern Seaboard, a spot that the Red Bulls desperately seek for themselves. Combined with the proximity of the cities and the rivalries carried over by fans from other sports, DC United versus New York Red Bulls matches are always intense and enjoyable to watch.
DC United heads into the playoffs in pretty good form having gone 2-0-2 this month. NYRB, on the other had, is coming off of two big wins over defending champions Sporting KC. Red Bulls forward Bradley Wright-Phillips tied the MLS record for goals in a season with 27, netting a brace in the season finale against Sporting KC, and continued his goal scoring prowess burying a header in off the post for the game winner in the knockout match as well.
Wright-Phillips, known affectionately as BWP, will be a real challenge for the DC United backline. BWP has really found his form and made a mockery of the usually very solid KC backline of Aurelien Collin and Matt Besler. It is practically guaranteed that BWP will get a few shots on goal, but it will be up to the DC defense to ensure those shots come from tough angles giving Bill Hamid the chance for a save.
Conversely, NYRB has shown a susceptibility to the counter and will give DC United scoring opportunities of their own. It will be incumbent upon Eddie Johnson, Fabian Espindola and crew to bury those chances in the back of the net.
This is no easy match-up but it is a winnable one for DC United. If DC United shows the form that propelled them through this comeback season where they were able to weather the early storms from the opposition and were efficient with their shots, they will emerge victorious. However, if they fall into complacency and look to just earn a point in New York, I believe they will find themselves facing a serious predicament coming back to DC.
United must remain aggressive, seeking the counter attack and look for the win in New York because the Red Bulls are too dangerous and are playing too well to not put away. This will be a challenge for DC United and will certainly test their resolve. However, DC United has met every challenge this year head on and always rose to the occasion. Sunday will be another match for them to do so and prove just how far they have come from last year.