It’s D.C. against New York. That says it all. It is cliché, but records have not mattered in this series dating back to the start of Major League Soccer in 1996. There is a built-in intensity to the matches and this year there is something extra.
Both United and the Red Bulls are hoping to use Saturday’s match at R.F.K. Stadium as a launching pad for the rest of their seasons. United is coming off its first win in eight months and wants to establish East Captiol Street as a fortress again. The Red Bulls are still for looking for their first win.
After a season-opening loss to Vancouver, the Red Bulls have secured four consecutive ties. The draws have the Red Bulls in the mix, but more was expected from the team that had the best regular season mark last season. The longest a reigning Supporters’ Shield winner has gone without a victory was 2003 when the LA Galaxy opened the season with a 0-4-4 mark.
The challenge against New York:
1. United will have to make another change in midfield. With Luis Silva sidelined with an ankle injury, United went with a partnership of Davy Arnaud and Perry Kitchen in the center of the midfield and Lewis Neal and Nick De Leon on the flanks. Neal has been suspended one game by MLS for serious foul play last week against New England. The suspension is for a tackle on the Revolution’s Andrew Farrell. One option to replace Neal is Chris Rolfe who came on as a substitute for Neal for the final half hour last week. Rolfe scored a goal and head coach Ben Olsen noted, “Left-mid, right-mid, he’s versatile and also good underneath and I think he did a lot of work for us.” Arnaud is capable of playing out wide and has twice this season, but the connection with Kitchen showed promise in the win. United has come a long way in seizing control in the midfield since the disappointing opener against Columbus.
2. United should continue to attack. Eddie Johnson believes there is “a real camaraderie and understanding” developing among United’s attacking players. Johnson has yet to open his United scoring account, but his play indicates it should happen sooner than later. The Red Bulls are also in flux at the back. In five matches the Red Bulls have conceded nine goals and only Chivas USA and Portland have allowed more. Jamison Olave is expected back after missing last week’s 2-2 tie with Montreal to anchor the middle of the back line , but Armando and Roy Miller both suffered injuries against Montreal.
3. The Henry and Cahill factor. Thierry Henry should be back in the first eleven for the Red Bulls Saturday against United. Henry only missed last week because of the artificial surface in Montreal. Tim Cahill has not been ruled out, but is dealing with a hamstring injury. At the very least with Henry on the field there will be a brightness and unpredictability to the Red Bulls’ attack. Henry is dangerous the minute he crosses the center line and must be given that respect. As a team United is showing growth and discipline on defense. It will be needed against the Red Bulls. Henry and Cahill grab the headlines, but there are other options especially midfielder Peggy Liyundula who has two goals in the last three games.