- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 16, 2006

D.C. United’s biggest rivalry just became more meaningful.

Tonight’s game against New York at Giants Stadium will be the Red Bulls’ first league game under new coach Bruce Arena. Arena won two MLS Cups and lost a third final in his three years as United’s coach from 1996 to 1998.

“It’s a little strange being involved in this game and going up against Bruce for the first time,” said United veteran midfielder Ben Olsen, who played for Arena with the University of Virginia, United and the U.S. national team. “I can’t remember a time not being on a team coached by Bruce or trying to get on a team coached by Bruce. I’ve always been on his side, and now it’s the reverse. But it’s great for the game.”

Arena hasn’t forgotten his success in the District. His assistants are both former United stars, Richie Williams and John Harkes. And last week the Red Bulls acquired former United midfielders Dema Kovalenko and Shawn Kuykendall.

“He’s hired winners who have won at the very highest levels,” Olsen said. “They know what Bruce wants and in the past have thrived under him. We are not just going up against a former D.C. coach but former D.C. players — in fact, some of D.C.’s greatest players like Richie and Harkes. It’s already a great rivalry, but adding Bruce into the mix makes the rivalry even greater, producing more history and more stories.”

The game also will be United’s first in league play since the team’s 14-game unbeaten streak came to an end with a 2-1 loss at Real Salt Lake on July 29. History says a win or tie tonight almost certainly will earn the Eastern Conference leader (13-2-6, 45 points) a playoff spot. No team in MLS’ 10 years has failed to make the playoffs after earning more than 45 points.

Meanwhile, the Red Bulls (5-6-9, 24 points), who lost 4-1 to European champion Barcelona before 79,002 at Giants Stadium on Saturday, are battling to stay in playoff contention. After winning just two of their first 16 outings, the fourth-place Red Bulls have recorded victories in three of their last four games.

“Hiring Bruce is the biggest thing in the Red Bulls’ history,” Olsen said. “Either this season or next he will make them a serious contender. He knows the league, and he knows how to make a championship team. So it’s ultimately good for the league having Bruce on board.”

There’s more than a little bad blood between these teams. On April 22, the last time United played at Giants Stadium, United striker Alecko Eskandarian celebrated the first of his two goals in the 4-1 win by taking a sip from a can of Red Bull and spitting it on the turf. Eskandarian was fined $250 by the league for inappropriate conduct.

The team, formerly known as the MetroStars, was taken over in March by the Austrian company that makes the energy drink.

“That stuff get’s blown out of proportion,” Olsen said. “Fans may hold on to that stuff but not the players. That was just a little entertainment.”

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