United, Red Bulls both hungry for points
It's a rivalry as old as Major League Soccer and ever since its beginning in 1996, D.C. vs. New York has never failed to disappoint.
"Even going back to the first year of the league," reflected D.C. United former player and current head coach Ben Olsen on the eve of the rivalry's latest chapter. "I remember watching a shootout in New York in the playoffs and it went to like 17 [rounds] or something. It started out with a bang and continues to be an interesting matchup throughout the years."
Olsen was a sophomore at UVA when New York (née MetroStars) met United for the fifth time that season in the inaugural MLS Playoffs. After another hard-fought battle, the teams were forced to head to an 11-round shootout. New York would take the first game (in controversial fashion, of course) but United would take the series and eventually the MLS Cup.
The Black-and-Red have met the Red Bulls three times since in the playoffs with DCU coming out on top in each series. After years of rebuilding, the most recent installment added an extra spark for United's current players, who name just one match as the epitome of the New York-D.C. rivalry.
"Beating [the Red Bulls] in the playoffs last year is the biggest thing that sticks out to us players," said midfielder Chris Pontius, who captained D.C. through their first playoff run in his MLS career. "For us to do it in New York was pretty special."
"Obviously the game in New York when we knocked them out and we went to the Eastern Conference Finals," Defender Dejan Jakovic agreed.
217 miles lie between RFK Stadium and Red Bull Arena, a distance that United supporters proved easily surmountable last November when over 700 made the trek through a snowstorm to watch their club do battle, only to be forced to make the up-and-back again when the match was postponed until the next night.
"The hunger that both teams bring to the derby, and essentially it is a derby, we're not in the same cities but it's been a big rivalry since the beginning of the league."
"In the last two years it's been interesting that we've both been competing for the top team in the east," said Olsen.
Not only has United eliminated the MetroStars/Red Bulls four times in the postseason, DCU also holds the edge in all-time meetings, with 31 wins and 116 goals to Red Bulls' 20 wins and 87 goals. The two sides have also drawn nine times, including their meeting in New York last month, where neither team made it onto the scoreboard. A key trade in 2011 that sent midfielder Dax McCarty up north for midfielder Dwayne De Rosario has also helped stoke the flames on this rivalry in recent years.
"It's had its fair shares of duels going back to when we got DeRo," said keeper Bill Hamid. "We went up there and punished them 1-0, DeRo scored. It was a hard-fought win. They've also come down here and punished us 4-0, so it's just been a hard-fought back-and-forth between these teams. It's been a good battle between both teams since I've signed.
Both sides enter Saturday's showdown with almost equally lack-luster records, each with one win, three losses and New York's pair of draws to D.C.'s one. But the slow start hasn't quelled the animosity between the long-time foes.
"Them coming here mixed with the fact that they hate us and we hate them, it's gonna be a dog fight," said Hamid. "They haven't been doing well at all so it's a chance for us to go out and jump on them. The rivalry is gonna add a little more bite to it because they need the three points desperately."