Tonight could prove to be an explosive renewal of an MLS original rivalry, as D.C. United comes to face the New York Red Bulls, this time with even more on the line than pride or bragging rights.
Currently, the Eastern Conference fourth spot is held by D.C. United with 48 points, with the Red Bulls just one behind with 47 points, in fifth place. Even on games too, this match-up will be as big a regular season one as any, as a home playoff match is on the line for the weekend of Oct. 19-20.
In the long history of this rivalry, since it began all the way back in 1996, there have been many fireworks between the two teams. Of late, the Red Bulls have gotten the better of D.C., having not lost to D.C. at home since that snow-delayed 2012 playoff series.
The most recent meeting, a midweek tilt in the Nation’s Capital on Aug. 21, saw the Red Bulls pull out a 2-1 road victory. Tom Barlow, who is expected to start at striker, got a taste of the rivalry back in August, and is now even readier to take on the goalscoring burden.
“We obviously want to play at home,” Barlow said of the playoff implications. “We like playing at home, take a lot of pride in defending our home turf. But, any game we’re out to win, we want to win, we want to get the three points.
“But, having that little extra edge, going into playoffs and trying to get that home-field advantage, it definitely adds a little something.”
Kyle Duncan also has played well these last two matches, with a goal and plenty of confidence in the attack to go with his defending at fullback. His recent run in the team is his first since a start in Atlanta on July 7, a match which was a learning experience for the young defender.
“I think I went into the game a little bit too comfortable,” Duncan said. “But, now I know that, being too comfortable is a little bit bad sometimes, you know? You have to stay on top of things and know that, you know, just keep going.”
Since returning, he has handled the attacking might that Portland and Philadelphia had to offer, but this next match-up may present his biggest test with the likes of Wayne Rooney, Luciano Acosta and Paul Arriola.
“Obviously, it’s three very experienced guys,” Duncan said. “They’re good transitioning play. Rooney’s good at holding up the ball and looking for runs behind the ball. Acosta’s good at holding up the ball as well. So, it’s going to be a good challenge and we’re ready to go after it.”
Away from the match, Amro Tarek suffered an ankle injury in Seattle on Sept. 15 and had surgery this week. Chris Armas revealed the surgery was done with his best interest in mind, for both the long-term health of the ankle and the possibility to get him back available for the postseason.
Though Brian White was in training on Friday, it is unclear whether he will feature either in the starting 11 or off the bench tonight (listed as questionable). If he is unable to start, the Red Bulls will likely turn to Barlow, who has led the line during their recent change of form.
“We’re just trusting each other, staying in that compact block,” Barlow said. “We’re still pressing, but we’re staying a little bit more compact. So, just knowing the other guy is working for you, and everyone seems to have that confidence in each other right now.
“And it’s working, we’re getting results. So, as that goes, our confidence is building. So, hopefully we just keep it going, and right now we feel good, we’ve been working on it all week, and ready to put it to the test Sunday.”