D.C. United will host its first Major League Soccer playoff game in five years on Saturday night, after MLS forced the team to swap dates in a two-game home-and-away series with bitter rivals Red Bull New York, whose stadium in Harrison, N.J., was left without power by Hurricane Sandy. Originally, United was scheduled to play at Red Bull Saturday night, then host the second game at RFK Stadium on Wednesday, Nov. 7. A lot of United fans are upset about the change, which gives Red Bull home field advantage even though United had a better regular-season record: Not only does New York now go into their home game knowing exactly what result they need to advance to the conference finals, but if the series is tied on aggregate goals after the second game, a 30-minute overtime and potential penalty kick shootout would be played there.
Yes, the date switch is unfair. Too bad. Sports are often unfair, especially soccer, but more importantly, so is life. My fellow United supporters need to stop complaining about this, show up at RFK Saturday night, and help the team win the first leg of the series by such a wide margin that there’s no way Red Bull could possibly come back.
Let me establish some bona fides: I went to my first United match in 1996, the team’s first season. I’ve had season tickets since 2001, the first full season after I moved back to D.C., and I’ve gone to four away games against Red Bull or, as they used to be known, the New York/New Jersey MetroStars, including one playoff game and one game where Meadowlands security threw my brother out because he poured his beer on me after a United goal (they accused him, wrongly, of throwing it on the field). On top of that, I may be in Staten Island, N.Y., visiting my wife’s family this weekend unless storm damage is too severe for us to get there—which means that thanks to the date switch, instead of going to both games in the series (I had planned to go to Harrison Saturday night, since I’d be in the area, and I already have a ticket for the home game), I might not be able to go to either.
But the whining from some United fans about this really ought to stop. On a thread on BigSoccer.com, some people are trying to argue that Sandy wasn’t that big a deal, which only seems possible if you’ve deliberately avoided reading or watching any news coverage of the storm or if you have no friends or family anywhere near New York. Complaints on Twitter are more or less the same. Does MLS have a long history of letting MetroStars/Red Bull bend the rules of the game? Sure. (Not that that’s helped them win anything much more impressive than the Walt Disney Pro Soccer Classic.) Does Red Bull now have a competitive advantage because of the storm that they didn’t earn? Yes.
So what? Sandy killed at least 74 people in the U.S. this week, 38 in New York City alone. All around New Jersey, towns are flooded, with homes destroyed. The New York subway, about as close to an indestructible institution as we’ve got in the nation, is crippled. Red Bull officials aren’t even sure their stadium will have power by Wednesday’s newly scheduled home game, or that flooded PATH train tunnels under the Hudson River will be open again to get fans to the stadium. The playoff switch isn’t one of Red Bull’s conspiracies to put one over on the rest of the league, it’s an unfortunate consequence of a natural disaster. Be glad we’re complaining about our team getting screwed instead of complaining about our city getting flooded. Giving up home field advantage won’t make the storm damage go away any faster, obviously, but if that’s the worst thing that happens to D.C. because of the storm, we ought to be able to live with it.
There’s one easy way to moot all the concerns about whether Red Bull’s getting an edge, and that’s for United to score goals Saturday night until their rivals beg for mercy. Mercy, by the way, is exactly what the team is showing off the field by going along with the swap, and coach Ben Olsen and his players know it. On the field, here’s hoping Red Bull doesn’t get any. Buy your tickets for the game at RFK here—and ¡Vamos United!
Correction: Due to a reporting error, this post initially misidentified Red Bull New York as New York Red Bull.
Photo by Mike Madden