United-Red Bulls Preview
The weather seems unwilling to accommodate the New Jersey leg of the Eastern Conference semifinal series between the New York Red Bulls and D.C. United.
That contest should finally happen Thursday night, although D.C. will remain without a key player as these rivals break a 1-all tie.
Red Bull Arena was originally scheduled to host the opening game of this set Saturday, but the first leg was shifted to the nation's capital because of power outages and flooding caused by Hurricane Sandy.
A snowstorm swept through the New York area Wednesday, pushing the decisive finale back about 24 hours.
"The game deserves a better field," MLS vice president Nelson Rodriguez said. "The forecast is much better for (Thursday) and we'll have the field in tip-top shape."
The coaches disagreed on the decision, with United's Ben Olsen saying he wanted the game to be played in the snow. New York coach Hans Backe's opinion may have been affected by the fact that starters Rafa Marquez and Tim Cahill are nursing calf injuries.
"It's a conference semifinal," Backe said. "You can't see the lines and players could be injured. This is not football, it's another kind of sport."
Marquez's status was uncertain for this leg, but he was listed in the starting lineup Wednesday and 24 more hours to recover should only help.
United standout Andy Najar would only be able to return for the East finals, if D.C. can advance. The 2010 MLS rookie of the year was given a red card for throwing the ball at the referee in the first leg, a wild draw that featured own goals from both clubs.
Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles came up big when he stopped Chris Pontius' penalty kick in the first half, then United salvaged the tie despite playing down a man for the final 19 minutes after the Najar incident.
"I liked the way we approached the game. I like the way we executed. We have to keep our heads up," Pontius said.
New York is trying to eliminate D.C. for the first time in four all-time playoff matchups. United advanced from series in 1996, 2004 and 2006.
The Red Bulls seem likely to use leading goal scorer Kenny Cooper, who was in the starting lineup Wednesday. Backe decided to go with Sebastien Le Toux at forward alongside Thierry Henry for Saturday's game to try to stretch D.C.'s defense, but Le Toux recorded only one shot and Cooper replaced him in the 80th minute.
"I'm definitely itching to get out there and hungry to play," said Cooper, who matched a career high with 18 goals this season. "Whether I play a minute or 90, I'll look to give my best for the team."
New York hasn't reached the conference finals since its run to the MLS Cup in 2008. D.C., which snapped a four-year playoff drought this season, last made it that far in 2006.
Houston, which upset top-seeded Kansas City, awaits the winner.