Preview: New York Red Bulls vs. D.C. United

On Saturday, D.C. United will face familiar foe the New York Red Bulls at Red Bull Arena (12:30 p.m. ET; NBC, Romantica 900 AM) in the first leg of the Atlantic Cup. In all aspects of the rivalry, the Black-and-Red has completely dominated its not-so-friendly neighbors to the north. Not only has United captured 31 total regular-season wins over New York – a joint League-best for most victories over another team in MLS – but the club has lifted the Atlantic Cup nine times since the series’ inception in 2002.

Last season was no exception either, as the Black-and-Red saw a couple of players reach career milestones en route to another Atlantic Cup title. On April 22, 2012, United shellacked the Red Bulls 4-1, with midfielder Chris Pontius recording his first-ever MLS hat trick on a rain-soaked night. Additionally, Pontius struck twice in the teams’ next matchup on June 24, with his first tally being the quickest goal in club history, at just 31 seconds inside the game. In the final regular-season duel on August 29, 2012, captain Dwayne De Rosario recorded his 100th career MLS goal, becoming only the seventh person in League history to achieve the feat.

And the drama continued after the end of the 2012 regular season, with a 2012 Eastern Conference Semifinals two-part clash for the ages. A swap in home playoff dates, a snowstorm-related game cancellation, a Joe Willis penalty-kick save with a man down and an 88th-minute series-clinching goal from rookie Nick DeLeon all culminated in a D.C. victory.

“That [playoff] game wasn’t too long ago,” said midfielder Perry Kitchen, referencing last November’s duel. “We’re thinking about them and I’m sure they are as well…It’s their home opener, so they have a lot riding on it as well.”

This year, United has maintained much of the nucleus that lead the 2012 charge to the Eastern Conference Finals, including captain Dwayne De Rosario, 2012 MLS Best XI selection Chris Pontius, 2012 MLS Rookie of the Year runner-up Nick DeLeon and Homegrown goalkeeper Bill Hamid. Meanwhile, the Red Bulls have added a few key pieces to its roster, including 2010 Defender of the Year Jamison Olave, scoring threat Fabian Espindola and dead-ball specialist Juninho.

“[The Red Bulls’] attack has always been good,” said Head Coach Ben Olsen. “They have different guys that can change the game very quickly and they can do it in different ways. Set pieces, buildup centrally, outside backs getting forward, crosses, individual plays, so they’ve got a lot of weapons.”

Starting the 2013 campaign with two road matches, the Red Bulls saw two consecutive early leads erased late, conceding three goals in the 80th minute or beyond. Winless entering its home opener, New York is hungry and Kitchen is not in the business of underestimating the team.

“I haven’t been part of another team to experience a different rivalry, but I’ve played [New York] a few times and it gets intense,” said Kitchen about the competitive nature of their head-to-head battles. “Sometimes it’s chippy, but it’s a great match-up and they’re a great side and we’re going to have our hands full.”