In what president Kevin Payne described as “extraordinary circumstances,” D.C. United has lost home field advantage. Unfortunately, there weren’t very many alternatives for Major League Soccer, who this afternoon decided to swap the hosting assignments or United’s Eastern Conference semifinal against New York Red Bulls.
D.C. United, originally scheduled to host Wednesday’s second leg, are now home for Saturday’s series opener (8 p.m. Eastern, NBC Sports Network). New York gets the second leg next Wednesday, potentially benefitting from 30 minutes of extra time at home, should the teams finish even after the matchup’s first 180 minutes.
“This was a tough decision, but one that was much bigger than soccer,” league commissioner Don Garber said.
Thanks to Hurricane Sandy, Red Bull Arena is without power. Though the team is able to restore minimum functionality with the aid of generators, that functionality is insufficient to host a playoff game.
With the City of Harrison unable to determine exactly when full power would be restored, MLS has made the switch.
“I’m OK with it,” D.C. head coach Ben Olsen told The Washington Post. “There are real issues in New York and New Jersey. People are suffering. This seemed to be the simplest solution.”
The simplest and perhaps only viable solution.
PPL Park in Philadelphia was considered, according to Garber, but that was a no go. Something like that couldn’t be thrown together on short notice, and instead of merely switching the order of matches, the solution would deprive New York (and their fans) of a game.
Rightfully, there’s been a lot of concern about D.C. losing their earned home-field advantage, having finished one spot above New York in the East. But in the face of tight schedules and television windows, nobody had a better solution. With each day that passed, “wait and see” become more problematic.
It also shouldn’t be assumed that the first leg at home is an inherent disadvantage. In some circumstances, it can turn into a benefit.
Last season, Western Conference third seed Real Salt Lake blitzed Seattle in their semifinal’s home leg, taking a 3-0 lead out of Rio Tinto. Playing the first leg at home gives D.C. United a similar opportunity to take early control of the matchup.