BULLS RUN: RED BULLS FACE FAMILIAR FOE IN MLS PLAYOFFS

Another chapter gets written in one of Major League Soccer’s most heated rivalries, as the Red Bulls take on D.C. United in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

The two will reignite hostilities starting Sunday in the first leg their series, as the Supporters’ Shield-winning Red Bulls head down to Washington and begin their quest for MLS Cup.

This will be the sixth time the pair have faced off in the playoffs and while the Red Bulls have just a 1-4 lifetime record against D.C. United, they probably won’t be too upset they’ll be facing D.C. In their first series. New York went 2-0-1 during the regular season against United and especially had their way with their Conference Semifinals opponent at Red Bull Arena, where they outscored them, 5-0, in two matches.

The Red Bulls might be content with who they’re matched up came about, but will also be wary of the short two-legged series. Two years ago, the 2013 Supporters’ Shield-winning Red Bulls were knocked out of the playoffs by the Dynamo. With away goals being the tiebreaker, the result in the first leg could make or break the Red Bulls. It’s why Jesse Marsch is not taking the opponent lightly.

“No matter what, every game [D.C. United] is dangerous,” the Red Bulls’ head coach said post-practice on Friday. “They’ve shown they’ve gone down so many times this year and they just stick around and manage to claw back in and have belief and grit in the way they play. That means they’re never out of it and it makes for a difficult two-game series.”

SEASON IN REVIEW: RED BULLS-D.C. UNITED

Red Bulls D.C. United
18-10-6 (60 Points) Record 15-13-6 (51 Points)
W-2
Streak *W-1 (Beat NE in Play-in Game)
6-7-4 (Road) Home/Road Record 11-3-3 (Home)
1st Conference Position 4th
62 Goals 43
1.82 Goals Per Game 1.26
43 Goals Allowed 45
1.26 Goals Allowed Per Game 1.32
Bradley Wright-Phillips (17) Top Goal Scorer Chris Rolfe (11)
Sacha Kljestan (14) Assists Fabian Espindola (9)

March 22 – Red Bulls 2, D.C. United 0

On a blustery cold day at Red Bull Arena, the Red Bulls unveiled the blueprint of their style of play for the rest of the season, as they took apart D.C. United in the home opener.

Using their vaunted press and counterattack, the Red Bulls squeezed D.C. United into mistakes and capitalized with clinical finishes from Bradley Wright-Phillips and Lloyd Sam. It was the first win for Jesse Marsch and one that the new Red Bulls coach would savor.

Red Bulls head coach Jesse Marsch speaks to media after the team's 2-0 win over DC United at Red Bull Arena.

April 12 – D.C. United 2, Red Bulls 2

This was a match that looked like a sure Red Bulls loss. Two goals from D.C. United midfielder Perry Kitchen gave the home side a 2-0 lead and defeat loomed for the visitors.

But New York would rally back in stunning fashion. A 68th-minute goal off a corner kick from Damien Perrinelle – two minutes after Kitchen had scored — gave the Red Bulls life and brought them back into the game. Sam would go on to snatch a point in the 90th minute, putting home a rebound after United goalie Bill Hamid spilled Sacha Kljestan’s rebound loose.

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Jonathan Yardley and Shep Messing recap the action from the Red Bulls' 2-2 draw against DC United.

Aug. 31 – Red Bulls 3, D.C. United 0

The scoreline would have been much worse had it not been for a Herculean effort by Hamid in the first half. The Red Bulls peppered the goalie with shot after shot before Sam finally broke the deadlock with a 33rd-minute goal, his third in as many games against D.C. United this season. Wright-Phillips would add another to his tally after slamming home a right-footed volley past a helpless Hamid in the 42nd minute. The English striker finished off the night with another goal in the 62nd minute to seal the game.

The common denominator from all of these games was that the Red Bulls were able to pounce on D.C. United mistakes and turn them into goals. A turnover in midfield would lead to a lightning-quick counterattack and an opportunity in transition. If New York does that in the series, it could make quick work of D.C. United.

War of Words

Even before the playoff pairing was made official Thursday, there was some back and forth between the two teams in the media.

Fabian Espindola was a member of the 2013 Red Bulls that won the Supporters’ Shield and declared that he wanted to face his old club in the next round after D.C. took out the New England Revolution in the play-in game. The striker missed all of the regular season games against the Red Bulls this year and would like nothing better than to get one over on his old team.

The Red Bulls have taken his comments in stride and have had a little fun with them. Especially Dax McCarty, who gave a somewhat tongue-in-cheek reply when told of Espindola’s comments.

“[Espindola] missed all three games and he really wanted to trade jerseys with me after the game,” the Red Bulls’ captain said to the media Thursday. “I know that’s the only reason why he said that. I don’t think there’s any other reason.”