CARSON, Calif. – Matches between the LA Galaxy and New York Red Bulls have typically garnered a little more glitz than other MLS rivalries. When Thierry Henry and Rafa Márquez joined the Red Bulls in 2010, the hype machine revved into an even higher gear for the bicoastal battle.
It won’t be any different heading into Thursday’s Western Conference Semifinal second leg at the Home Depot Center (11 pm ET, ESPN2/TSN2, live chat on MLSsoccer.com), and with a trip to the Conference Championship on the line, the game certainly has a potential to live up to its billing.
Then again, maybe not.
“It’s like any game in the playoffs,” Galaxy coach Bruce Arena told reporters on Wednesday. “The teams are ready – you just have to make sure you bring it on game day.”
The Galaxy currently lead the series 1-0, but just how that will affect the two teams at the start of the game is anybody’s guess. New York certainly need to score a goal if they want to keep their postseason alive. But conceding one might be disastrous as well.
“It’s a long time, 90 minutes,” New York coach Hans Backe said at training on Wednesday. “It’s probably most important at the beginning to have a clean sheet and not go 1-0 down.”
A win by two or more goals will see the Red Bulls through to a Monday date at Rio Tinto Stadium against Real Salt Lake. A one-goal New York edge after 90 minutes would send the match to extra time and, if necessary, a penalty shootout.
And the Red Bulls won’t be picky about which of those scenarios plays out.
“I don’t care so much if we score in the 88th minute or something like that and go to extra time but I think the key thing is not going down early in the game,” Backe said. “We need to stay in the game at least 60, 70 minutes.”
That the match is at the HDC – where the Galaxy have not lost a single match in 2011 – puts pressure on LA to see the job through.
“We’re obviously the favorites – we’re at home and one-nil up,” Galaxy forward Robbie Keane said. “Going into the game, people expect it but you have to respect who you play against. By no means is it going to be an easy game. They have quality players and are a tough team. We just have to be careful.”
The prospect of handing LA their first home loss of the season is daunting, but perhaps no less daunting than the hurdles New York have faced all season. If anything, it’s just another in a string of challenges that the Red Bulls have overcome.
“We have definitely raised our game when we have had our back against the wall,” Backe said. “Probably when we had seven games to go we had to win four, five of them just to get in the playoffs. We don’t perhaps get used to it but we have players with a lot of experience being involved in these types of games and that has probably helped us.”
Luis Bueno covers the LA Galaxy for MLSsoccer.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.