New York Red Bulls: Part II. dcunited.com prepares for the return leg. Here's how United can book passage to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Following Saturday's 1-1 draw against New York, D.C. United is headed north to face the Red Bulls in the winner-take-all return leg of the Eastern Conference semifinals. The first game had it all - intrigue, drama, and excitement, but ended with neither team seeing a clear advantage. The two clubs meet again Thursday at 7:30 p.m. ET before a national television audience on NBC Sports Network.
Ben Olsen's charges know what they are in for and will be fully prepared. Here's what the team will need to accomplish in order to advance Wednesday night:
Run for it
Much has been made of the edge in experience favoring the New York Red Bulls. With names like Henry, Cahill, Marquez, Cooper and Le Toux, this side is surely comfortable in big matches. What comes with experience, though, is age. New York fielded 11 players Saturday night with an average age of 29.2, with skill players Henry (35) and Cahill (32) serving as two of the oldest players to see action in the match. United's starters averaged a mere 25.3 years of age.
With short rest between matches, this is an area United can exploit. Older legs are going to be chasing Nick De Leon and Chris Pontius on the wings. Older legs are going to be battling with the inexhaustible Perry Kitchen in the center of the park. Older legs are going to be running at Chris Korb and, perhaps, a fresh Robbie Russell (in the wake of Andy Najar's suspension). Turning the experience deficit into a fitness surplus will be key to United getting a result at Red Bull Arena.
Break the ice
Since 2010, head coach Hans Backe's first season in charge of the Red Bulls, the club has a record of 34-0-14 in regular season matches when they score the first goal. When New York scores first, their experience and possession-oriented style become nearly overwhelming to opponents. The Red Bulls have proven that they can keep the ball against United, as they have owned a majority of possession in each of the four matches the two sides have played this season.
It doesn't matter if it's in the first or the 90th minute, United will be looking to be aggressive, build upon high pressure and score first. Doing so may see the Black-and-Red through.
Manage the elements
Weather conditions Wednesday night are expected to be ugly at best and the club that best handles those elements is likely to advance. Much of that has to do with mental fitness. Being able to focus on the task at hand, not on how cold, wet or uncomfortable you are, may be the difference between winning and losing.
At any point, if United feels the elements getting the better of them, they'd be well suited to look to section 220, where more than 700 supporters are expected to brave the conditions in support of their beloved club. With their help, United can conquer the Red Bulls and book passage to the Eastern Conference Finals.