I'll be honest: This year I've sort of beaten up the term "big game."
Well..."beaten up" might not be the right term for it, since the Red Bulls had so many games so pivotal to their standing this year, it's more like I've beaten "big game" so far beyond recognition Mr. and Mrs. Game had to hold a closed casket funeral, ending with Mrs. Game rushing to the front of the church to weep over her son's shuttered casket before the service ends.
But such is the case with a team that had so many chances -- especially with this year's schedule -- to assert itself into the upper echelons of the league. There were matches to take first place in the East. Matches to bring them level or close-to-level with competition atop the table. There were matches that would've brought them that much closer to the San Jose Earthquakes in the Supporters' Shield race.
So forgive me when I drudge up this cliche one more time: Tonight against D.C. United is the biggest game of the season.
After a venue switch that saw the first leg end in a draw, the Red Bulls are now in an advantageous position, what with the league's strong preference for home teams and the two team's own respective home/away splits. They're playing their most hated rival and historic tormentor (another line I'm growing to hate). They're playing in front of fans, some of whom are still reeling from last week's hurricane, sold short by their own team in order to placate the whining and general callousness of the opposing, rival, fans.
If the Red Bulls win, they live to fight another day (Saturday, against the winner of the Sporting Kansas City-Houston Dynamo series, also played tonight). If they don't, the specter of a front office shake-up hangs over their collective heads, one that could, again, reshape the team's philosophy.
If there's a time "big game" should be used, assuming it has any meaning left after the beating I've given it, it's now.
Playoff survival, the votes of confidence, the sympathy angle. It's all there.