Red Bulls vs. D.C. United Kicks Off MLS Rivalry Week (3-16-13, 12:30pm on NBC Sports Network)

Nothing like a mid-day Red Bulls vs. D.C. United match to kick off a full slate of intense matches as part of Major League Soccer’s Rivalry Week.

In more recent meetings, New York fell to D.C. on a 2-1 aggregate in last season’s Eastern Conference Semifinals. The loss not only ended the Red Bulls’ season, but also formed a chip on the team’s shoulder that has lasted well through the offseason. More specifically, the second leg of the series that amounted to a 1-0 loss on the pitch at Red Bull Arena.

“For me, I’m a very spiteful person with certain things, and I’m very spiteful about that game for sure,” said Red Bulls Head Coach Mike Petke. “Is it something I’m addressing and bringing up to the team? Absolutely not. That’s the past. If these guys can’t find motivation on their own, then they’re in the wrong business. Having said that, I know they can find their own motivation. That’s why I’m happy to have them in the locker room with me.”

D.C. United is coming off its first win of the season last Saturday and will look to carry that momentum into this weekend's match. Forward Lionard Pajoy scored D.C.’s lone goal in a 1-0 win over Real Salt Lake.

New York will look to earn its first ‘W’ of the season and establish an early defense of home turf at Red Bull Arena. Last season, the Red Bulls returned from a 0-2-0 start on the road to win their first home match, a 4-1 win over the Colorado Rapids. The Red Bulls ultimately established Red Bull Arena as a “fortress” throughout the 2012 campaign, remaining undefeated at home up until a late-season, September loss to Sporting KC. Regardless, the Red Bulls posted an impressive 11-2-4 record at Red Bull Arena by season’s end.

D.C. United Preview

Red Bulls defender Heath Pearce isn’t too concerned about the team’s start on the road. It is, after all, a long season. And the most important thing is that the team continues to learn from its early-season mistakes.

“I wouldn’t say it’s a rough start.  I’d say it’s not an ideal start, points wise,” said Pearce. “But I think that we accomplished a lot of things in seeing where we were as a team, kind of where we fell into place, how we play on the road, and I think a lot of times throughout that [San Jose] game we showed some good effort and we also showed some things we need to work on.”

The team has undoubtedly been looking forward to playing in front of the home crowd since the start of the season. That much was evident during a full week of training at Montclair State University. If you factor in the opponent, the bitterness from the final match of 2012, and the team's drive to lock down home field advantage this season, it’s not hard to see why this is no ordinary meeting between two MLS sides.

“It’s going to be intense. There’s going to be a lot of tackles, there’s going to be a lot of intensity, there’s going to be a lot of emotion in the game,” Pearce said. “Obviously we’ve got a bitter taste in our mouths left over from last season’s playoffs, and it’s a rival regardless. So we’re going to come out strong and I’m sure they’re going to come out flying and we hope to get a result.”

The Red Bulls kick off against D.C. United Saturday at 12:30pm. Tickets to the season opener are available at Red Bulls Ticket Central, or by calling 877.RB.SOCCER.