MLS presents a veritable smorgasbord of tasty match-ups this weekend as part of a day-long celebration of the league's best rivalries. On Saturday alone, rivals clash across a 10-hour block, starting with the Red Bulls v. D.C. United at Red Bull Arena and climaxing with Seattle v. Portland from a packed house in Seattle. NBC Sports will provide live look-ins at several games via a "whiparound" show called "The Breakaway."
Really, for those into who use things like Unibet to do something by the name of online betting, the crush of action, action, action is like a dream wrapped inside a fantasy covered in pixie dust. Even if you're not the type, nonstop American soccer action could be the high point of your month. I know it will be of mine. Do not judge my life.
But which game is the best of the lot from a competitive standpoint? Which game pits the most even teams against one another while also bringing the added element of heated (or, in some cases, lukewarm) rivalry? Which game rises above its rivals to become the rivalry of rivals? Ahem.
From my perspective, New York hosting D.C. United holds the most potential. Obviously the rivalry (and outside of Cascadia, it might be the league's fiercest) is part of what makes the game potential firecracker, but the talent on the field and the quality of the team's overall puts it above the rest of the slate. D.C. United comes in on the back of their first win of the season, a 1-0 defeat of Real Salt Lake in Washington. That win brought Ben Olsen's team their first points of the young season--they opened the campaign with a loss in Houston, a place they never win.
New York opens their home schedule after a West Coast trip they'd probably rather forget. Up two goals on the Timbers in their first game of the year, they left with only a point after failing to hold the lead. Last week in San Jose, it happened again--only this time, they took home no points after Roy Miller's epic meltdown in the final ten minutes (in less time than it takes to boil an egg, Miller lost his mark on the back post for the equalizer, committed a handball offense in the box, then encroached during the penalty so blatantly that it led to Chris Wondolowski getting a second chance to convert after his first show was saved--he did).
So one team is building off a win, while the other is looking to recover from a disastrous result. Let's see how this shakes out.
Thierry Henry (Red Bulls) - Yes, pointing to Henry is hardly difficult analysis, but the Frenchman sets the tone for the Red Bulls. If he comes out surly and disinterested, it could submarine New York's efforts from the start. Watch Henry closely; his body language tells half the story. The other half is in the lack of it when the mistakes start to flow. If he doesn't care, it will be up to Fabian Espindola and others to make goals happen.
Dwayne DeRosario (D.C. United) - Another obvious selection. But this one is different, mostly because DeRosario has yet to play in 2013 after a suspension stemming from a preseason headbutt. DeRo shouldn't have much trouble integrating to the team, and his presence will undoubtedly help wing threats Chris Pontius and Nick DeLeon.
How good is United's defense?
Last week's performance gives United plenty of confidence heading into Red Bull Arena, but New York presents a stiffer challenge than Real Salt Lake. The Red Bulls should have Juninho Pernambucano back in their lineup after the Brazilian missed a week through injury, so United's defenders will have to careful not to give up any fouls in the general vicinity of their own goal. And by that, I mean within 30 yards. This means you, Perry Kitchen.
The Red Bull response
It's worth mentioning again--the Red Bulls loss to the Earthquakes on Sunday has the potential to derail their season before it gets started. United will certainly know that, and would be happy to send their chief rival spiraling into the abyss. New York can prove a lot to the league and themselves if they put in a god showing. Mike Petke can go a long way towards proving he's a different kind of Red Bulls coach.
Will Roy Miller start?
Because the boos. Oh the boos.
It's hard to picture the Red Bulls being fully recovered after the two trips out west in two weeks and the loss in San Jose, but they will be at home. United's strength lies in their defensive commitment and the threat of DeRosario and Pontius. New York has more weapons, and that's even if Thierry Henry isn't fully engaged. United...eh, that's enough. New York 2-1 United.