The New York Red Bulls will play their home opener this weekend against longtime rivals DC United (Sunday, 5 pm ET, ESPN2). The rivalry, which dates back to the inaugural 1996 MLS Season, is generally one of the most anticipated matchups of any MLS Season.
In recent years, different teams have had claims on being the major rivals of each of these clubs. Sorry Philadelphia Union and NYCFC, DC United are the real rivals of the Red Bulls, and vice versa.
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The bad blood stemming from the rivalry all dates back to 1996. The NY/NJ Metrostars and DC United battled their way into a shootout in the first game of the rivalry. The Metrostars won the shootout, but it was only a regular season game. The real drama happened in the playoffs of that year. A three-game series was set to take place in the 1996 Eastern Conference Semifinals.
The series started with a back-and-forth battle at Giants Stadium. Once again, the two teams were deadlocked, sending the game into an old-fashioned MLS shootout. At 5-5 in the shootout, Peter Vermes chipped the keeper and took game one for the Metrostars. However, after a season saving win for DC in game two, the series would be decided by a one-off game at RFK Stadium. DC had a 1-0 lead with only minutes left on the count-down clock used in the early days of MLS, but one of the wildest finishes in MLS Playoff history occurred.
With four minutes left in regulation, Antony De Avila slotted home a through ball he received to equalize. Just two minutes later, Marco was taken down inside the box and Raul Diaz Arce scored from the penalty kick to send DC United through to the Conference Finals. DC United went on to win 1996 MLS Cup
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Many games were played in the rivalry from the 1996 MLS Cup Playoffs meeting and the Red Bull takeover of the Metrostars. The teams met in a number of league games, a U.S Open Cup Semifinal, and a playoff series.
The year of the Red Bull takeover, 2006, began a new era of the rivalry. In the first match between the teams since the Metrostars became the Red Bulls, DC United forward Alecko Eskandarian created a controversy during the celebration of his goal by taking a sip of the Red Bull Energy Drink and spitting it onto the Giants Stadium turf.
The two teams met in the 2006 MLS Eastern Conference Semifinals. After a 1-0 DC United victory at Giants Stadium to open the series, the Red Bulls needed a victory to keep their MLS Cup hopes alive. 16-year-old Jozy Altidore looked to have salvaged the Red Bulls season with a goal in the 70th minute, but RFK Stadium was ignited once again as DC ended the Red Bulls season off of a Christian Gomez goal in the 86th minute.
The Red Bulls and DC United met in the playoffs again in 2012. The series got off to an interesting start with DC United hosting the opening game despite being the higher seed. The impact of Hurricane Sandy on Northern New Jersey forced a switch in the venues for the game. Each team netted an own-goal as the series headed north to Red Bull Arena.
After a snowstorm hit New Jersey on the night of the second game, the kick-off was pushed back to the next night. With the Red Bulls dominating the game, DC United goalkeeper Bill Hamid was sent off after taking down Kenny Cooper in the box. Cooper stepped up and nailed the penalty kick, but multiple teammates entered the box early forcing the kick to be retaken. Off the bench, Joe Willis saved the kick. Minutes later Red Bulls midfielder Rafa Marquez was sent off leading up to Nick De Leon’s game-winner in the 88th minute to send DC United to the Conference Finals once again.
The Red Bulls had never defeated DC United in a playoff series leading up to their meeting in the 2014 Eastern Conference Semifinals. That was bound to change as legend Thierry Henry led a charge with three assists and midfielder Peguy Luyindula scoring two goals in the series as the Red Bulls finally defeated DC United in the playoffs 3-2 on aggregate.
The Atlantic Cup will resume on Sunday as DC United heads north to Red Bull Arena. This classic MLS rivalry will definitely have something in store for the fans in 2015.