HARTFORD, CONN. – Superstorm Sandy caused enough damage in New York and New Jersey to make an impact on the MLS playoffs.
The third-seeded New York Red Bulls were scheduled to host the first of their two-leg aggregate scoring semifinals series with second-seeded D.C. United on Saturday night, but instead the Eastern Conference clubs will begin the postseason in the nation's capital.
The playoff format is set up for the team with the most regular-season points to hold home-field advantage for the potentially decisive second leg. D.C. (17-10-7), which finished second in the East one point ahead of New York (16-9-9) and Chicago, isn't focused on the change, though.
"We're not down about it, we're not frustrated at all. It was a decision that was made and we got two games to play," goalkeeper Bill Hamid said. "We want two wins and that's what we're gonna fight for."
Coach Ben Olsen believes the switch is actually a positive for United, who lost their home opener to Kansas City on March 10 before going 12-0-4 on their home field the rest of the way.
"The advantage goes to the team that plays (at home) first,'" Olsen said.
Chris Pontius netted three of his team-leading 12 goals as D.C. beat New York 4-1 at home April 22 before the clubs played to a 2-all draw Aug. 29 at RFK Stadium. United finished 5-0-2 in their last seven regular-season contests.
"We're going to use that fight and that courage we brought game in and game out in the regular season to the playoffs," Hamid said.
New York, meanwhile, went 1-2-2 before winning its regular-season finale 3-0 in Philadelphia last Saturday, which ended a nine-game road winless streak (0-4-5). It held the tiebreaker over Chicago to earn the conference's third seed and avoided playing in the knockout game between the fourth and fifth seeds.
The Red Bulls, who will host the second leg of this series Wednesday, also haven't concerned themselves with playing the first leg on the road rather than at home.
"We all had the mindset no matter where we play - whether we're at home, away, at a neutral site - we have a task at hand," keeper Luis Robles said. "We'll go into D.C. knowing that regardless of the fact that we're playing away, we still need to get a result and not rely on coming home for the second leg."
United will be making their first playoff appearance since 2007, and only two players in their starting group have postseason experience.
"Playoffs aren't pretty soccer, it's who's going to bite their teeth the hardest and have the most grit on the pitch," veteran defender Brandon McDonald said. "For us, we've got a fairly young team, but at the same time, they gotta grow up quick."
New York lost 3-1 in its aggregate-scoring series to eventual MLS Cup champion Los Angeles in last year's conference semifinals.