Following Saturday’s bizarre 1-1 draw between D.C. United and the New York Red Bulls, Thursday’s second leg at Red Bull Arena (7:30pm ET, NBC SportsNetwork) provides 90 minutes (or, perhaps 120, if overtime is necessary) for one team to separate itself and advance to the Eastern Conference Finals. With chilly temperatures, rain and high winds expected at kickoff, the weather conditions may play a larger role than either team would like.
United will also have to deal with the absence of right back Andy Najar who will serve a one-game suspension after being given a red card Saturday evening.
“We’ll adjust – it’s what we have been doing all year,” said Head Coach Ben Olsen after Saturday’s draw. “Now, we won’t have our right back, but we will respond.”
Olsen’s response in the back may involve Robbie Russell – who started 16 games at right back before injuring his foot in July – or see Chris Korb move to the right side of the four-man backline in order for Lewis Neal to slot in at left back. Regardless of the lineup, D.C.’s defense will again be charged with muting New York’s potent attack, something the team did extremely well on its home ground.
“They are a pretty good team, they have some pretty good players and a pretty good attack,” said Olsen after the first leg. “Looking at the game, I didn’t think they had many chances at all.”
Indeed, New York managed just two shots on goal – one from Thierry Henry and Joel Lindpere each – while United forced Red Bulls’ goalkeeper Luis Robles to make five saves during the match.
On Saturday, Olsen deployed Lionard Pajoy as the team’s lone forward, while Branko Boskovic sat behind the Colombian in a five-man midfield. The formation worked well, with wingers Chris Pontius and Nick DeLeon creating havoc for New York’s outside backs. It seems likely that Olsen will employ the same front six, but he could also consider going with a more traditional 4-4-2 and replacing Boskovic with forward Maicon Santos.
It remains to be seen whether or not Red Bull Arena will draw a large crowd for its midweek matchup following the impact of hurricane Sandy on the surrounding area. What is known is that as many as 700 black-clad supporters will be in attendance to cheer on the visitors. Should the game remain close in the late stages – or, perhaps, go to overtime – the additional support may push United to its first appearance in the Eastern Conference Final since 2006.
“The guys are ready,” said midfielder Chris Pontius of the return leg. “They’re juiced for the game on Wednesday.”
» ANALYSIS: Volkswagen Keys to the Match
AR1 (bench): C.J. Morgante; AR2 (opposite): Greg Barkey;
4th: Jose Carlos Rivero
NEW YORK RED BULLS -- OUT: DF Brandon Barklage (L plantar fascia injury); GK Ryan Meara (L hip surgery); MF Lloyd Sam (R knee PCL injury); QUESTIONABLE: MF Tim Cahill (L calf injury) ...
D.C. UNITED -- OUT: FW Josh Wolff (lower back disc herniation); QUESTIONABLE: MF Dwayne De Rosario (L knee MCL sprain); PROBABLE: MF Lewis Neal (L calf strain); DF Daniel Woolard (concussion-like symptoms); FW Long Tan (L ankle sprain)
SUSPENDED: DC: Andy Najar (through Nov. 8)
WARNINGS (suspended next yellow card): NY: Connor Lade, Heath Pearce ... DC: Andy Najar
DC 31 wins (1 SO), 116 GF … NY 20 wins (1 SO), 87 goals … Ties 8
2012 HEAD-TO-HEAD: NY 1 win, 6 GF; DC 1 win, 8 GF; 1 tie
AT RED BULL ARENA: 6/24: NY 3, DC 2 (Barklage 20, 47+; Solli 55 – Pontius 1, 66)
MLS CUP PLAYOFFS: NY 1 win, 5 GF … DC 5 wins, 12 GF … 2 ties