The first ever rivalry in MLS was between New York and D.C. United, a bitter and sometimes bloody feud that also extended off the field between these two fanbases.
It has produced memorable moments and always, despite the records, was a match that the MetroStars — and later the New York Red Bulls — always seemed to get up for emotionally and physically.
There was a sense that United was the enemy and was to be hated. The matches were often played at a fever pitch and with plenty of emotion by New York.
That is, except for last season.
The Red Bulls had come out flat in their first meeting with United a year ago, losing 2-0 but looking simply dreadful in the process. They went on to draw the remaining matches of the series against a United team that finished 11 points behind them in the table.
It could be argued that in all three fixtures a season ago, D.C. came out and treated it like a rivalry match. They clawed and gutted out three results, showing their trademark tenacity and fire under head coach Ben Olsen. The Red Bulls didn’t seem to grasp the intensity level of their first rivalry, perhaps focusing a bit too much on their new one with New York City FC.
This lack of focus, of understanding the depth of the league’s oldest rivalry, may have contributed to their dropped points against United.
“Listen, last year in D.C. we got our [butt] kicked, plain and simple. And we learned from that and we put more into it when we came back home. It was only a draw but we learned from that, even when we were down there the second time, we learned from that,” Red Bulls head coach Jesse Marsch said Monday.
“I told them this morning, ‘We don’t need reminders, D.C. is coming here to fight.’ And they always will [fight], give them credit for that. It’s a big match for us in terms of the table, it’s a rivalry match so it makes it even bigger and we have to understand what this will require.”
The two clubs have only met once this year, resulting in a 2-0 home win by the Red Bulls on April 15. The two remaining matches in this series, beginning Wednesday night at Red Bull Arena and then to close out the season down at RFK Stadium, likely will play a major part in determining if New York makes the playoffs.
Currently, the Red Bulls sit in the sixth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
Marsch cautions that this United team, again struggling, won’t lie over and play dead. They made that mistake last year and he doesn’t want his club to fall into that same trap.
“Last year they weren’t doing very well and I think we underestimated them,” Marsch said.
“And it’s easy to do that again because they’re bottom of the table. The combination of knowing D.C. and where we’re at means that there can be no complacency and not taking anything for granted. I expect that we will fully understand that and be ready to go.”
RED BULLS NOTES
“Danny Royer is full go, 100-percent. Connor, we’re just managing his workload to make sure he’s available for Wednesday,” Marsch said.
The influential Royer, despite being out nearly two months, could even be an option to start.
“We can consider him to start. He’s doing well, he’s in – he’ll be in the 18,” Marsch said.
2) In last week’s loss in the US Open Cup final at Sporting Kansas City, Marsch’s first move was to replace left back Kemar Lawrence with Sal Zizzo. The decision raised some eyebrows – not because it was Zizzo (who is having really fine season this year) – but because the team was down a goal and needed an offensive spark.
However, most at the time thought that bringing in Gonzalo Veron was the best way to go to provide a spark in the final third.
Marsch explained on Monday that he thought Lawrence was beginning to fatigue, and that Sporting had made two offensive subs already. Zizzo, he thought, would add some fresh legs to the backline as the Red Bulls pushed for the equalizer.