Preview: New York Red Bulls at DC United

IMAGE, MATT KREMKAU FOR EMPIRE OF SOCCER

Coming off the heels of a brilliant 2-0 victory over DC United, and with over 1,250 New York Red Bulls fans making the trip, Saturday afternoon’s encounter at RFK puts momentum firmly behind the visitors.

History, however, tells a different story.

Whether under the red and black of the Metrostars years or since the Red Bull takeover, New York have consistently struggled against DC United in the postseason — and have been quite inept against their long-time rivals at RFK.  Recent history has seen the Red Bulls drop their last two matches at RFK by a combined score of 3-0.  However, the Red Bulls are going into this match the hotter side, suffering all of two regular season losses in two months.

DC was unable to score at Red Bull Arena in the first leg.  A 2-0 scoreline in their favor will be all they need to force extra time.  Will New York be able to keep their form?  Or will the ghosts of RFK come back to haunt them?


 

MATCH INFORMATION: New York Red Bulls at DC United, 2:30PM at RFK Stadium, NBC, UDN

REFEREE: Ismael Elfath

HEAD-TO-HEAD: DC 33 wins (1 SO), 120 goals … NY 23 wins (1 SO), 92 goals … Ties 9

2014 HEAD-TO-HEAD: DC 2 wins, 3 GF … NY 1 win, 1 GF … Ties 0

AT RFK STADIUM:
4/12: DC 1, NY 0 (Arnaud 4)
8/31: DC 2, NY 0 (Silva 57; Johnson 91+)


 

DC United Frontline vs. Red Bulls Defense

Fabian Espindola, Chris Rolfe vs. Luis Robles, Richard Eckersley, Ibrahim Sekagya, Jamison Olave, Roy Miller

The Eddie Johnson, Fabian Espindola tandem struggled to gel as they have throughout most of 2014. With Espindola’s ability to find lanes and expose defenses, it will be Eddie Johnson making way for Chris Rolfe.  Rolfe looked the better partner to the Argentine’s style and has a record of success against the Red Bulls.  Jamison Olave and Ibrahim Sekagya will be tested by the new-look duo, forced to contain their former teammate’s speed while neutralizing the holding Rolfe.  On the wings, Eckersley and Miller each come into the match red-hot, and will likely have their focus on Nick Deleon and the DC wing attack.

Advantage: Red Bulls


 

Red Bull Frontline vs. DC United Defense

Bradley Wright-Phillips vs. Bill Hamid, Sean Franklin, Bobby Boswell, Steve Birnbaum, Chris Korb

DC’s midfield flank was neutralized by the Red Bull’s overstocked midfield and a balanced defense.  Sean Franklin will return to this one to give DC an added dimension on the back, shifting Korb to the left.  Veteran Boswell and rookie Birnbaum will have to show the same kind of balance that has propelled DC to the top of the East, particularly when containing Wright-Phillips.  The Golden Boot winner has been a magnet for chances.  However, his record-tying year has been marred by several missed chances.  Nevertheless, Wright-Phillips has a proven track record against DC and will look to once again sneak one past Bill Hamid.

Advantage: Toss-up


 

The Midfields

Dax McCarty, Eric Alexander, Lloyd Sam, Tim Cahill, Thierry Henry vs. Nick Deleon, Davy Arnaud, Perry Kitchen, Chris Pontius

The move to join both McCarty and Alexander in a two man block in front of the Red Bull center backs has changed New York’s fortunes this year, solidifying the team’s defense.  That has allowed both Thierry Henry and Lloyd Sam to flourish on the wing areas, feeding Bradley Wright-Phillips towards the record books.  The big question Saturday will be whether or not Mike Petke goes with Tim Cahill or Peguy Luyindula from the start.  Each brings the potential to break open a match off the bench, and considering the circumstances, Petke may be inclined to keep with the status quo and call on Luyindula to open the match late in the game.  Cahill is not only a goalscoring threat, but a pest in the midfield.  His ability to disrupt and create can make for an invaluable part of the midfield at RFK.  DC, meanwhile, have had one of the most steady midfield fronts this season.  Deleon and Pontius both have a history of beating New York in key spots.  Containing New York’s counter attack and breaking through their five man midfield will be key if United hope to advance.

Advantage: Red Bulls


 

Coaches

Both Ben Olsen and Mike Petke share a lot in common.  They are both emotionally driven individuals that are passionate about the organizations they represent.  On the field, each tries to keep tactics at their most simple form, relying instead on key veterans to lead and adapt.  In the first leg, Petke out coached Olsen, isolating DC’s wing attack and stretching their back line after a contentious start to the match.  This week, Petke may hold back the reins, relying on the counterattack to preserve their two-goal cushion.  That will leave Olsen to dictate the pace of the encounter, while keeping a defensive head about them.  Each coach has found success in this league.  Each will be driven to win.

Advantage: Toss-up


 

Intangibles

It will be a crisp day at RFK, with plenty going around off the pitch to sway the emotions within it.  A traveling contingent of over 1,250 fans spanning four sections will be backing the Red Bulls efforts.  However, history both in the postseason and at RFK play into the hands of DC United.  Petke has made a living of slaying this franchise’s many curses.  Saturday will be no different.  While DC holds court, a two goal advantage and a large traveling support group may be enough for New York to forget they are in the nation’s capital.

Advantage: Red Bulls


 

Prediction:

Olsen will be motivated to press early and break through in the first half.  Likewise, Petke will anticipate the onslaught, preparing his defenders to weather the early storm in order to keep their rivals at bay.  New York are known to give up an early goal every once in a while.  That can change the complexion of the match.  However, the Red Bulls disciplined defense can be enough to combat that, and hold on for the right result.  I predict a 1-0 DC victory, with New York advancing on goal differential.