Though Rivalry Week is full of great moments between rival clubs, no matchup has history that dates back to the inaugural year of Major League Soccer the way the Atlantic Cup rivalry does.
And so, in honor of Saturday’s 72nd all-time meeting between the New York Red Bulls and D.C. United (12:30 pm ET, NBC, live chat on MLSsoccer.com), we look back on the greatest moments in the history of the rivalry ... told by the people who remember it best.
It wasn't all that long ago, but the events of Nov. 7, 2012, were so surreal that the snowy Wednesday evening in New Jersey instantly became one of the rivalry's most memorable chapters. New York and D.C. United were set to play the second leg of their Eastern Conference semifinals series, a clash which already had been affected by weather after the teams agreed to swap home dates because of the devastating impact of Hurricane Sandy on New York and New Jersey.
So the clubs met up at Red Bull Arena following a 1-1 draw at RFK Stadium in the first leg. Ominously, however, another weather event was rapidly descending on the region and, by the time the clubs arrived at the stadium, the field was blanketed in white.
Stadium workers and volunteers – and at one point even MLS Commissioner Don Garber – furiously shoveled the field in an attempt to make the surface playable. After roughly an hour of shoveling zig-zagging strips of green and white, players testing their footing and fans speculating whether or not the match would be played, heavy snow was still falling and the league made the decision to postpone the contest to the following evening.
The Red Bulls and their head coach Hans Backe were happy. D.C. weren’t. United’s players and coach Ben Olsen wanted to play, keenly aware of the hundreds of United fans who'd made the trip up I-95 on a weeknight. As a consolation, D.C.’s players scaled the sideboards and climbed to RBA's second deck to personally thank their supporters once the postponement was made official.
Here’s what United midfielder Chris Pontius remembers from that eventful night…
Pontius: For me, I just remember thinking, "What a great game it would be." Not necessarily a great game of soccer, but what a battle it would have been. And it’s something that, as you get older, you would look back and say, "That was a fun game to play in." That’s kind of how I was approaching everything.
Obviously, mentally I was ready to go and wanted to get the game underway, so it was kind of hard to turn that off and get going the next night again. I had never had to do that before where you’ve got to basically say, "Alright, we’re not playing, but we’ve got to get the same mentality going the next night." So that was a bit of a change for me.
We wanted to play that game for the fans. A lot of them took off work that day to get up there. I know a number of them came back the next day, but a lot of them couldn’t make it back. It was the least we could do to go up in the stands to thank them.
Of course, Red Bulls fans all cringe with what came next. D.C. came back the next night and won 1-0 in the dying minutes to advance to the Eastern Conference Championship in an action-packed evening of soccer in Harrison, N.J. The memory of Kenny Cooper's nullified penalty kick remains another flashpoint moment in the history of the rivalry. That moment is recalled here by Empire Supporters Club members Doug Zimmerman and Corey Vezina...
Vezina: You had Hurricane Sandy, which was an enormous emotional moment for the entire area – people thrown out of their homes, just this terrible devastation. And then they switched the home and away legs, which they had to do. And then you had the snow game where they brought 900 D.C. fans up as a thank-you for allowing them to switch the home games, New York chartered the buses as D.C. had arranged.
So you brought all the fans up and you didn’t play the game and they had to go back. And then they had to come back the next day and you already knew it was like a karma avalanche heading in your direction. You were just standing at the bottom of the hill waiting for the snow to hit you. There was no way you were going to avoid that avalanche. Lo and behold, it always finds us.
Zimmerman: They should have just played in the snow. I don’t know why they didn’t just play in the snow. It would have been classic and that’s the way they should have won it. And they didn’t play in the snow. And that’s the reason they lost. I believe that and I’m going to stick with it.