- - Wednesday, November 5, 2014

With D.C. United’s season hanging in the balance, the club faces an all-too-familiar dilemma.

After falling 2-0 at the New York Red Bulls on Sunday to open the teams’ Eastern Conference semifinal, United must overcome that deficit at home in the decisive match of a two-game, total-goals series.

It’s the same situation United dealt with during its last postseason run in 2012, when a 3-1 loss in Houston left the team with a balancing act for the second match: Should it rush to erase the gap or first make sure the deficit didn’t grow?

“We’ve got to push it at the beginning — but not over the top,” midfielder Chris Rolfe said. “We still have to be a little bit safe, a little bit smart with our runs, with our numbers going forward. Then as the game progresses, I think you’ll see us start to send more numbers and be a little bit more risky.”

In 2012, United surrendered a crippling first-half goal en route to a season-ending 1-1 draw against Houston. It’s a fate the No. 1 seed will look to avoid Saturday when it welcomes fourth-seeded New York to RFK Stadium.

Adding another hurdle is the new tiebreaker, which sees the team that scored more goals on the road advance if the clubs are deadlocked after both matches. Since United was shut out at Red Bull Arena, New York needs just one goal this weekend to clinch that tiebreaker.

“The away goals obviously changes the whole complexity of this match,” coach Ben Olsen said. “Giving one away is a killer.”

United fell flat in the opener, failing to find a rhythm on the ball and providing little resistance to a Red Bulls team that had won a play-in game against Kansas City three days earlier.

Considering United clinched its postseason spot in early October, Olsen had feared his team might come out flat against the playoff-tested Red Bulls — a problem United is confident will be remedied in the second match.

“It’s not an easy task, but it’s one that we’re up for,” captain Bobby Boswell said. “We knew that this [deficit] could be a real possibility. We’re not happy with how it happened, but we have a chance to make up for some of the mistakes we made.”

Olsen this week must gauge the readiness of Rolfe, who made his return from a broken arm with 16 minutes Sunday, and forward Luis Silva, who has been sidelined since Oct. 12 with a hamstring injury.

In a similar position against Houston two years ago, Olsen waited until the second half to introduce Dwayne De Rosario as the All-Star made his return from a knee injury. With Silva still working his way back and Rolfe doubting his ability to start, it appears both players will be limited to roles off the bench Saturday.

“In the second half, we’re going to have a few guys available that can help change this game,” Olsen said. “You don’t need to get those two goals in the first half. It’s more of a slow burn, and hopefully at the end you’re in a position to push it to extra time or, of course, you’d like to win it outright.”

While any three-goal win would send United through, a 2-0 triumph will push the series to overtime — with the teams tied on both total goals and away goals. In two matches at RFK Stadium this season, United secured a 1-0 win over New York in April and a 2-0 victory in late August.

United also dropped back-to-back games just twice in the regular season — speaking to the club’s resilience and giving Olsen further faith that his team can complete the comeback.

“The one thing I do believe in is that this team responds to adversity and there’s real character with these guys,” Olsen said. “I have no doubt that we will be a better side and make this thing very interesting.”

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