Preview: New York Red Bulls at DC United

IMAGE, DC UNITED

BY MARK FISHKIN
STAFF WRITER

When, oh when will the New York Red Bulls win a match?

The Red Bulls were in a great position to take three points in one sitting last weekend in Montreal, but after Peguy Luyindula pushed a penalty kick against the post, New York fans knew the Impact’s equalizer was a foregone conclusion.  Still, the Red Bulls scored more than once for the first time in 2014, and the club hasn’t lost in a month.  This week, New York heads to the raccoon-infested edifice in Washington for the first of three league matches against a re-tooled United, who are fresh of their first win of the year.  With Thierry Henry and Jamison Olave returning, can Mike Petke juggle his injured lineup to finally break into the win column?

Match Information:
Saturday, April 12th at RFK Stadium, 7p ET kickoff, TV: MSG+

Record, GF/GA, Final Division and League Position, Recent Form:
DC United, 4 points from 4 matches, 4GF/6GA, t6th in the East, t12th in MLS, LLDW
New York, 4 points from 5 matches, 6GF/9GA, t6th in the East, t12th in MLS, LDDDD

United’s front line vs. the Red Bulls defense:

Eddie Johnson and Fabian Espindola vs. Roy Miller, Jamison Olave, Ibrahim Sekagya and Kosuke Kimura (and Luis Robles). Eddie Johnson’s career resurrection tour has wound its way to East Capitol Street, but so far the USMNT star has managed only a single shot on goal per game in 2014.  Espindola, who has one of DC’s four goals this season, would like nothing better than to stick it to the team he scored nine goals for in 2013, before finding himself out of favor as last season wound down.  Newly-acquired Chris Rolfe scored in injury-time last week against the Revs. Despite getting Olave back, the Red Bulls backline is a hospital ward right now with Roy Miller nursing a sore Achilles, Armando with a hamstring tweak, and Eckersley sidelined with an ankle injury.  Perhaps Connor Lade or Bobby Convey will find minutes at left back?  New York’s back line was penetrated often by Montreal last week.  Thank goodness United plays a tad slower than the Impact. New York has yet to register a shutout in 2014.
Slight Advantage: New York

New York’s attackers vs. the DC defense:

Thierry Henry and Bradley Wright-Phillips vs. Bobby Boswell, Sean Franklin, Cristian Fernandez, and Jeff Parke  (and Bill Hamid). That Peguy Luyindula is the leading scorer for New York is a surprise, and not a good one.  Henry has played every minute of the Red Bulls’ three matches on grass this season, though, and leads the team in shots.  Wright-Phillips has yet to prove he’s a consistently dangerous player in MLS.  Boswell, Franklin and Parke would make DC United’s backline unbeatable … if this was 2009.  In 2014, DC has conceded 3 to Columbus and two to Chicago.  Last week’s 2-0 home victory vs. New England was DC’s first in seven games, since the 2013 US Open Cup final at Salt Lake.
Advantage: Even

The Midfields:

Lewis Neal, Perry Kitchen, Davy Arnaud, and Nick DeLeon vs. Lloyd Sam, Peguy Luyindula, Dax McCarty, and Jonny Steele.  Neal was MLSSoccer.com’s Man of the Match last week in DC’s home win.  Arnaud, in his 13th MLS season, has just surpassed 300 all-time league matches.  Kitchen scored two weeks ago in United’s 2-2 draw against Chicago.  DeLeon, of course, sunk New York in the infamous 2012 playoff match.  New York’s midfield powered the Red Bulls to its first multi-goal match of the season, with Luyindula (two goals in two matches) and Steele (playing as a forward) both hit the net in Montreal.  McCarty, who played only the second half against the Impact, should be ready to play both halves at DC. Sam continues to be New York most energetic player, and if it wasn’t for Luis Robles, would be the Red Bulls MVP for the season to date.  Believe it or not, Tim Cahill may be ready to contribute minutes two weeks after his latest injury.  
Advantage: New York

The Coaches:

Ben Olsen continues to soldier on despite last season’s miserable campaign.  His club has gotten older (Johnson, Espindola, Arnaud, Franklin, Parke) and is taking time to jell.  United’s only three goals scored (and one own goal) in four matches isn’t generating a lot of confidence among DC’s fans.  Mike Petke has to be given credit for pushing Steele up top last week. With Cahill still hurt, Petke has fewer choices to make among the front six. 
Advantage: Even

Intangibles:
One can forgive New York fans for being jealous of DC’s schedule.  Saturday night will be United’s fourth home match in its first five games (1-1-1), while the Red Bulls play their fourth road game in its first six matches (0-1-2).  New York is 10-23-6 all time at RFK Stadium, though the Red Bulls won last time out in DC, 2-1 on goals by Sam and Cahill. Saturday’s perfect forecast calls for a high of 73 degrees and partly cloudy skies. DC’s traditional strong support has eroded this season, as the club is averaging a paltry 11,270 this season, good (or bad) enough for 17th in MLS.  United drew only 9,445 fans for its March 29th match against Chicago, one of the poorest draws ever for the club.  Advantage: Even

Prediction:

Is this the week?  Without a healthy, first choice lineup, Petke will once again ask Henry to push back into midfield to help start the offense. However, with Luyindula heating up, Red Bulls fans have reasons to be optimistic.  Lewis v Sam will be the key matchup to watch, and Espindola will be desperate to put one past his former side. With McCarty returning to hold things down, I like New York to finally lock up that first win, 2-1.