Although it's early in the season, second place in the Eastern Conference is on the line Sunday night when D.C. United hosts the high-scoring New York Red Bulls.
New York (3-2-1) has 10 points and D.C. (2-2-3) brings nine into the latest edition of the Atlantic Cup rivalry, with the winner guaranteed sole possession of second. Both teams are looking forward to it, with the Red Bulls 2-1-1 in the series since coach Hans Backe took over two years ago.
"It's a quite big rivalry between the teams, and we've done quite well so far the games we've been playing against D.C," Backe said.
The Red Bulls lead MLS with 16 goals and have outscored United 6-0 in two wins at RFK Stadium under Backe.
D.C., however, won the last matchup 1-0 on the road July 9 as Dwayne De Rosario scored in the 61st minute against the team that traded him to United on June 27. De Rosario went on to win league MVP honors despite playing with three different teams in 2011.
"I'm definitely over all that stuff that went on last year," he told United's official website. "It's a new year, a new season. The main thing now is getting our guys (totally) focused."
United began the season with consecutive losses before their current five-game unbeaten run that continued with Wednesday's 1-1 draw against expansion Montreal in the opener of a three-game homestand.
Brazilian forward Maicon Santos had D.C.'s goal, giving him four over his last four games.
"We're making progress every game, that's for sure," Santos said. "Every game. Everybody can see that. It's the fifth game that we don't lose."
New York travels south with a severely short-handed team. Juan Agudelo (left knee surgery), Teemu Tainio (right knee sprain), Wilman Conde (groin strain) and Roy Miller (left knee) are all out, as is defender Rafa Marquez while serving a three-match suspension.
Miller was injured in last Saturday's 2-2 draw with San Jose. Rookie Connor Lade could get his first start as part of a makeshift Red Bulls defense, and the New Jersey native is looking forward to playing in a rivalry he grew up watching.
"They've always been hard-fought, there's always a little extra something in every game, so it's going to be really fun to actually be a part of it," Lade said.
While the Red Bulls' defense has been lacking, Thierry Henry and Kenny Cooper have helped make up for those deficiencies with seven goals apiece. Henry had two goals and an assist in last season's 4-0 rout at RFK on April 21.
De Rosario was a starter for New York that night. Now he's once again on the other side of this rivalry.
"We have obviously a tough opponent coming up on Sunday, it is an in-conference team and it is a rival of D.C," De Rosario said. "We're really looking forward to that matchup with New York."