Preview: New York Red Bulls vs. DC United

IMAGE, NEWYORKREDBULLS.COM

By MARK FISHKIN
Staff Writer

Tonight, the Red Bulls face their biggest rival in a match that will have a serious impact on New York’s postseason fate.

DC’s worst-to-first run has been one of the main storylines in MLS this season. The Red Bulls will be happy simply to score against a team that has shut them out twice in two matches this season.  For the second time in three weeks, DC faces New York on three days’ rest after a trip to the West Coast. While Tim Cahill has returned from International duty, will Petke start him?  Tonight’s the second of New York’s seven-match “September Death March.”

Match Information:
Wednesday, September 10th at Red Bull Arena, 8p ET kickoff, TV: ESPN2

Referee: Mark Geiger

Record, GF/GA, Division and League Position, Recent Form:
New York, 34 points from 26 matches, 41GF/39GA, 6th in the East, 11th in MLS, WLWLW
DC United, 47 points from 27 matches, 38GF/32GA, 1st in the East, 3rd  in MLS, WWLWD

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

Fabian Espindola and Luis Silva vs. Roy Miller, Jamison Olave, Armando, and Chris Duvall (and Luis Robles).
In DC’s two-nil victory over New York eleven days ago, United sent long ball after long ball at the center of New York’s defense hoping that the Red Bulls would make mistakes.  Well, New York made two mistakes, and DC scored both times. On Wednesday in Vancouver, Espindola took four shots at the Whitecaps’ goal, putting only one on target.  Silva didn’t take a shot in DCU’s scoreless draw.  Eddie Johnson, who scored DC’s second goal two weeks ago, is out with concussion-like symptoms.  New York withstood a 17-shot barrage against Kansas City on Saturday, and Luis Robles needed a superlative save on Dom Dwyer to keep Sporting off the scoreboard in the first half.  Armando played a competent last 25 minutes after Sekagya went off with an injury.  Both Olave and Sekagya (if he plays of course) will be suspended after their next yellow card.  Duvall had another strong match for New York, but DC will be focused directly at the centerbacks tonight.  
Advantage: DC United

New York’s attackers vs. the United defense:

Thierry Henry and Bradley Wright-Phillips vs. Taylor Kemp, Steve Birnbaum, Bobby Boswell, and Sean Franklin (and Bill Hamid).
Ho hum. BWP scores, Henry scores. The two have combined for 71 percent of New York’s goal output this season.  Petke’s 4-2-3-1 against Sporting allowed was supposed to generate more offense for New York, but the Red Bulls only put five shots on net against Kansas City.  DC’s defense is stingier than Sporting (30 goals allowed v 34), and United hasn’t conceded a goal in 195 minutes. On August 31st, DC didn’t allow any shots on Bill Hamid’s net between the 56th and 86th minute, frustrating the heck out of the Red Bulls.  If New York is going to score against DC for the first time this year, the Red Bulls obviously have to finish the few chances they create, and maximize opportunities on set pieces.
Advantage: Even

The Midfields:
Eric Alexander, Dax McCarty, Peguy Luyindula, and Lloyd Sam v David Estrada, Perry Kitchen, Davy Arnaud, and Nick DeLeon. 
While Cahill will surely want to start, Petke should give the nod to Luyindula (4G/1A), who only played during injury time in DC two weeks ago.  Given DC’s attack towards New York’s center, McCarty and Alexander will again be deployed twin defensive midfielders in front of Olave and Armando.  Given DC’s long ball strategy against New York, United’s midfield was often bypassed on August 31st during attacks, but frustrated the Red Bulls with long stretches of possession during  the second half.  DC will be buoyed by the return of Chris Pontius to the lineup for the first time in 2014. Pontius, who loves to score against the Red Bulls, has finally recovered from hamstring surgery and will surely come on as a substitute.  Chris Rolfe is out with a fractured left arm.  
Advantage: DC United

The Coaches:
Petke did well to re-align his team for the challenge that Sporting provided, and apparently has had a heart-to-heart with Henry to get him engaged for the stretch run. As the seven-match slog continues, the New York coach must find a way to get his under-performing Australian asset to make a difference.  After a well-fought road draw on the weekend, Olsen’s team can open an eight-point advantage over SKC with a win tonight. DC is in contention for the Shield, which is a tremendous achievement given when the club was a season ago.  Olsen will have his club pumped to put a real monkey-wrench in New York’s playoff hopes.
Advantage: DC United

Intangibles:

New York hasn’t scored on DC this season. If the Red Bulls are unable to score on Wednesday, it’ll be the first time in history that New York goes goalless against DC in a single season.  New York turned the trick on DC in 2010 (winning 2-0 and drawing 0-0). Henry, who has picked up four career goals against DC, hasn’t scored against United since April of last year, three matches ago. After a slow start at home, the Red Bulls now boast an impressive 6-2-4 record in Harrison with a plus-10 goal differential. DC is a very respectable 5-6-2 on the road with only a minus-two differential. Given that the school year has begun, and the late 8pm kickoff, the Red Bulls cannot expect a large crowd tonight at Red Bull Arena.  Tickets on Stubhub are going for far less than face value, a signal that many season ticket holders will forgo tonight’s match.  That’s a shame, because tonight’s weather will be perfect: partly cloudy skies, zero chance of rain, and seventy degrees at kickoff.
Advantage: Even

Prediction:

Even during New York’s victory on Saturday, one got the notion that the Red Bulls could lose their lead at any moment. Though DC’s offensive weapons are less effective than Sporting’s, the Red Bulls’ propensity for defensive meltdowns makes predicting a win difficult. New York played well enough at RFK to earn at least a point.  I think they’ll break through Bill Hamid at home, but I can’t see New York shutting out their rival.  Though the match will be played in front of an embarrassingly small crowd, the vocal fans in attendance will lift the Red Bulls to a 1-1 draw.