Players insist venue switch "bigger than soccer"
Before the playoff pairings were set, D.C. United Ben Olsen said he didn't have a preference as to whether his club played its first postseason match at home or on the road.
Now, a day after it was announced that United's first playoff match since 2007 was moved from Red Bull Arena to RFK Stadium because of Hurricane Sandy, Olsen's sticking by his statement.
"I meant it when I said that," he said following Thursday's training as the team now prepares for a home match Saturday at RFK (8 pm ET, NBCSN, live chat on MLSsoccer.com) with the second leg coming on the road against New York.
"I do think we are [switching the venues] for the right reasons and I think there's something good out of that. I think both teams feel the goodwill in this," Olsen said. "I think the good will probably goes out the window once the whistle blows, but that's great. That's what we want. We want an energetic, passionate, game and series between D.C. and New York. It's going to be great."
While some United supporters voiced their displeasure through Twitter and various internet comment sections after the league announced its decision, United's players took the news in stride on a chilly D.C. morning.
"To be honest, I don't mind being here for the first time in five years at RFK on a Saturday night in the playoffs," center back Brandon McDonald said following Thursday's training. "Obviously you want the second game at home, but there's nothing can do. You're praying for the people in New Jersey and New York."
Continued McDonald: "It's bigger than soccer. We can't look at ourselves and be selfish from that standpoint. People lost their lives, people lost houses. For us, it's something that we gladly accept and we're going to come out and fight our hardest."
Olsen said there was even debate within his own group as to whether the home game in the first or second leg was a bigger advantage.
"Hamdi [Salihi] the other day was like, 'I don't understand this system. The advantage goes to the team that plays home first,'" Olsen said. "So there's all different ways to skin this thing or believe that there's a real advantage. Ultimately, I believe the only real advantage is if you go into a tiebreaker and PKs. That's just a matter of the fans getting behind you and getting you through a gut-check down that stretch."
Regardless of whether it was to come in the first of second leg, second-seeded United should be excited to play at RFK Stadium, where they haven't lost since March 10, a span of 16 matches.
"It's an unfortunate situation, but we're just going to take it a game at a time, like usual," goalkeeper Bill Hamid said. "We're not down about it, we're not frustrated at all. It's a decision that was made and we've got two games to play. We want two wins and that's what we're going to fight for."