New York Red Bulls vs. DC United | MLS Cup Playoffs Preview
Perhaps the oldest playoff matchup in Major League Soccer history is renewed when the New York Red Bulls play host to D.C. United in the first leg of their Eastern Conference Semifinal Series on Sunday afternoon at Red Bull Arena. The Red Bulls have reached the semifinal stage after coming from behind for a 2-1 win to eliminate defending champions Sporting Kansas City in the Knockout Round at midweek, the club's first home postseason win in nearly a decade. United completed a worst-to-first turnaround this season in finishing atop the East, entering the playoffs riding a six-game undefeated streak in league play.
NY 23 wins (1 SO), 92 GF ... DC 33 wins (1 SO), 120 GF ... Ties 9
2014 HEAD-TO-HEAD: NY 1 win, 1 GF ... DC 2 wins, 3 GF ... Ties 0
AT RED BULL ARENA:
9/10: NY 1, DC 0 (Sam 90)
MLS CUP PLAYOFFS: NY 1 win, 5 GF ... DC 6 wins, 13 GF ... 2 ties
REFEREE: Hilario Grajeda.
AR1 (bench): Kermit Quisenberry; AR2 (opposite): Bill Dittmar;
4th: Edvin Jurisevic
NEW YORK RED BULLS
- The Red Bulls won their first postseason game at home since the 2005 season, and their first ever at Red Bull Arena, which opened in 2010. The Red Bulls had lost their last four home postseason matches, and were winless in seven in a row.
- "There was a point late in the second half where I was questioning if this team was scared of the playoffs," said Red Bulls head coach Mike Petke. "Over the last couple of years, I've been saying I don't believe in any curses, or jinxes or anything like that, but I thought maybe we were just scared of the playoffs. But they proved that wrong."
- Bradley Wright-Phillips scored his second and third career postseason goals, after netting last year in the conference semifinals against Houston, in the second leg at Red Bull Arena. Wright-Phillips has 29 goals in all competitions this season, tied for fifth-most by an MLS player in a single year. "When you have a guy like Bradley Wright-Phillips in the box and you can find him, then you can finish the job," said Thierry Henry.
- Henry was able to return from Achilles' tendon issues that kept him out of the regular season finale, and played the full 90 minutes.
- "[Henry], in the second half especially, he was quality. He rode down memory lane. He was a young man out there, he was taking on that guy for fun," said Wright-Phillips. "I did have a feeling something would come from him, from the left, if it came from anywhere. He did was he does best."
- There was also a key change late in the match when Peguy Luyindula came on as a substitute for the final quarter of the match. "We stayed in our position, we stayed wide, Lloyd [Sam] stayed wide, we stayed kind of in the same position and obviously when Peguy came on and Tim [Cahill] went a bit lower, but we had the same shape and I thought that it was the key although it looked like time was running out," said Henry.
- Added Petke: "Peguy, when he's on, is able to control the ball, is able to do things with the ball that not many people can. Spreading the ball out, holding the ball for us when weíre giving it away too much... I thought he did well. I thought he stepped in to a difficult situation where we weren't having success going through the middle. With him jumping into the middle spot I think there were times that he did well, held the ball up, linked up well with Thierry and Bradley."
- D.C. United enter the postseason riding a six-game undefeated streak in league play -- their longest of the season -- and a nine-game run without a loss in all competitions. Their last loss came on Sept. 10 -- to semifinal opponents New York Red Bulls.
- "I'm happy we battled back to get a draw on the road (in the season finale)," said United head coach Ben Olsen. "I think you set yourself up to succeed in the playoffs and that goal woke us up a little bit. Once the goal hit, we started to bring the full hunger that's necessary to win games in this league. In the second half we played some good stuff and were a little bit unlucky not to get that win. It gave us the right momentum to start the playoffs."
- United striker Fabian Espindola scored his 11th goal of the season in the season finale vs. Montreal, a new single-season career-high for his eight years in MLS. Espindola last year scored nine goals -- with the Red Bulls.
- "I thought Eddie [Johnson] was fantastic, too. I feel like every game the forwards' relationship is growing and it's unlucky that they didnít get the goal," said Olsen.
- While United boss Olsen ran out a team filled with reserves for the season finale, midfielder Davy Arnaud said he will be available for the playoff opener. Arnaud missed the match with an ankle injury. "I'll be fine. I am going to have to have a serious problem to not play this weekend," Arnaud told The Washington Post.
- There was a concern out of the match as right back Sean Franklin was forced to leave midway through the second half with a hamstring ailment.
- There was considerably brighter news as influential attacker Luis Silva could be ready to return for the first leg, after suffering a hamstring injury Oct. 12 that appeared to have put him out until any conference championship. "He looks good," Olsen told The Post. "He is moving very quickly with this injury, so there is always a chance [he could be in uniform this weekend]. It's just a matter of weighing the risk factor. We'll see."
- Midfielder Chris Pontius -- who had started three consecutive matches in his return from offseason surgery -- and fullback Taylor Kemp, who had started 11 straight matches, are also expected to be available for full duty.