Another stormy outlook for second leg of United-Red Bulls playoff series

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Sports,D.C. United,Craig Stouffer

Weather still an issue for match at Red Bulls

The first leg of D.C. United's Eastern Conference semifinal series against the New York Red Bulls was switched from Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J., to RFK Stadium due to the effects of Hurricane Sandy.

The conditions may be nearly as unforgiving for the return game Red Bull Arena now gets to host.

A nor'easter boasting a rain-snow mix, gusting winds and sub 40-degree temperatures will greet D.C. United, which needs a road victory to extend its season and earn a spot in the conference finals.

Up next
United at Red Bulls
MLS Eastern Conference semis
Game 2 (Teams tied 1-1)
When » Wednesday, 8 p.m.
Where » Red Bull Arena, Harrison, N.J.
TV » NBC Sports Network

"The weather is going to be pretty nasty, from what I hear, and I kind of like that," United midfielder Chris Pontius said. "I think our team is built for that."

MLS decided Tuesday to go forward with the match as scheduled. Sandy's aftermath helped prompt the Big East to shift its men's soccer tournament semifinals and final from Friday and Sunday at Red Bull Arena to PPL Park outside of Philadelphia.

The odds are also against D.C. United in the total-goals playoff format, which counts goals scored at home and road equally. Since the two-game series was adopted in 2003, nine of the 36 conference semifinals contested have had a tie in the first leg. Only three times has the visiting team prevailed in the second match, most recently the Red Bulls in 2008.

"I feel confident in our squad," United defender Dejan Jakovic said. "I think we played a great game. I'll take my players over their players any day."

D.C. United lost 3-2 in its last visit to Red Bull Arena on June 24, the first of six straight defeats away from RFK Stadium. But it's a match United played evenly, and the squad is unbeaten in its last four road games (2-0-2), part of a larger eight-match undefeated stretch (5-0-3) since September.

"We just can't give them too much time on the ball up there," Pontius said. "When we played there last time, they have players who can hurt you when that happens so like we did in this last game, we limited their time on the ball, and we put pressure on them."

Adjustments will be required due to right back Andy Najar's red-card suspension. Robbie Russell, a veteran defender and MLS Cup winner with Real Salt Lake brought in last winter, could be the 19-year-old's replacement. He said back in March he wasn't sure how long it would take for his new team to figure itself out.

"This group continues to surprise me all the time," Russell said this week. "They are a team in every aspect of the word. On any given day, somebody else steps up big for us, so I'm sure guys on the bench will come in and put in some great minutes. Every single person on the field has done something amazing. It's gotten us this far, and hopefully it'll get us even farther."

cstouffer@washingtonexaminer.com

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