HARRISON, N.J. – Playoff victories always hold the utmost significance. But downing your hated rivals for the second time in as many seasons? Well, that just makes the win even sweeter.
Prior to 2014, the New York Red Bulls and D.C. United had met on four separate occasions in postseason play, with each meeting proceeding in the same way for New York: an empty locker the next day.
Last season, the Red Bulls flipped the script, besting United over two legs and advancing to the Eastern Conference Championship. In 2015, the Red Bulls were nearly perfect against their I-95 foes, posting a 4-0-1 record in their five matchups, with the final victory acting as the symbolic dagger to the heart of D.C.
“It doesn’t feel like it was that lopsided this year,” Marsch said after the match. “A lot of those games were tight. They’re emotional, they’re physical; they’re what rivalry games are supposed to be.”
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High emotion and added physicality are more or less the norm when these two sides go head-to-head, but Sunday’s do-or-die clash saw both sides doing more even more battle than usual, often at the expense of the footballing aspect of the match.
“We’ve adapted to it, but we don’t really like to play that way,” Red Bulls goalscorer Bradley Wright-Phillips said. “We like to play football. No disrespect to D.C. because they’re good at it, but they like to ruffle feathers.”
While not a masterpiece aesthetically, you’ll hardly hear a complaint from the Red Bulls locker room. And though their next opponent is currently undecided, both Montreal and Columbus both offer more opportunities for the Red Bulls to play to their strengths. But for former United midfielder and current Red Bulls captain Dax McCarty, there’s no denying just how special a second straight playoff triumph over United has been.
“It’s huge for us, massive significance,” he stated. “It gives us more confidence to know that even when the game isn’t pretty and even when we can’t do the things that make us a good team, we can still win games in different ways. We can win games ugly and stay in the moment and not break down.”
A newcomer to the team, midfielder Sacha Kljestan joked that he is perfect against D.C. while noting that it felt “extra special” to knock off their hated rivals. As for the comments made by former Red Bulls striker Fabian Espindola prior to the series?
“Whatever,” he said, shrugging. “Ask Espindola now if he wants to play us, I don’t know what he’s going to say. But I don’t really care.”