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Sandy prompts switch; United will open playoffs at home

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D.C. United and the New York Red Bulls will swap home dates for their Eastern Conference semifinal series, the clubs announced Wednesday, with RFK Stadium hosting Game 1 on Saturday as the New York metropolitan area continues to recover from the devastation of Hurricane Sandy.

United, as the higher seed, originally were slated to host the decisive match of the two-game, total-goals series. But D.C. will visit Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J., for Game 2 on Wednesday, giving the area an additional four days to prepare.

"Hurricane Sandy, as all of you know, is an epic and unprecedented natural disaster," MLS commissioner Don Garber said. "This will have a competitive impact on D.C., we understand that, and we deeply appreciate their support and also understand that it'll impact their fans."

The Red Bulls on Tuesday announced their stadium lost power but had sustained "only minor, non-structural damage" and no flooding as Sandy rocked the region.

But with the PATH train that serves Harrison suspended indefinitely and area residents coping with other hardships, the logistics became too difficult to ignore.

"Clearly, the safety of our fans and visitors coming to Red Bull Arena takes ultimate precedence," New York general manager Jerome de Bontin said.

With a 1-1 tie at the Chicago Fire on Saturday, United (17-10-7) clinched the No. 2 seed by one point over the third-place Red Bulls (16-9-9).

In the two-game format, the higher seed is granted the advantage of hosting Game 2.

While Game 1 ends after 90 minutes no matter what, two 15-minute overtime periods and, if necessary, penalty kicks are played after Game 2 in the event of a tie through both matches.

"Our club worked very hard to try to earn home-field advantage in the playoffs, and we're very proud that we achieved that," United president Kevin Payne said. "But there are times in which circumstances override competitive concerns, and this is clearly one of those times."

To help make up for United losing that edge, the club will be allotted additional seats for visiting supporters at Red Bull Arena.

While another solution contemplated was having New York host Game 1 at PPL Park, the home of the Philadelphia Union in Chester, Pa., Garber said that plan ultimately was not viable.

United coach Ben Olsen, when asked Wednesday before the announcement, said he was "not that concerned with the order in which games are played."

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