I believe 2001 was the only other time NY came into RFK as such a prohibitive favorite. NYRB is cruising along in first place a clear nine points ahead of fifth place United (with two games in hand). Even with United on a five game unbeaten streak and NY losing last Saturday to KC playing with a dinged up defense, the Red Bulls are the easily the clear favorite behind the red hot play of forward Juan Pablo Angel.
With six goals in his last four games, Juan Pablo Angel is hotter than any player not named Eddie Johnson over the last month, and in his last match Angel scored two goals in two minutes to come from behind and beat Toronto this past Wednesday. Behind his stellar play, and assuming United’s offense comes out of hibernation to take advantage of NY’s hobbled defense, this match has the makings of a true old fashioned barn burner. Could easily be 6 or 7 goals scored in RFK this Sunday, just a matter of who gets them.
Now, United has focused on defense after starting the season 0-3 by allowing 7 goals from 12 shots in those three matches. Since that point, DC has only given up 4 goals in their last five and hasn’t lost since April. However, Angel and young Jozy Altidore have shown the class and skill to virtually score at will over the last month, and that’s with Mathis chipping in four goals in and around has typical suspensions. If it wasn’t for Arena putting on the brakes to help out his banged up defense and the Cowboy’s usual reckless play of late, NY might be even more of a juggernaut.
In United’s defense, since the switch to four in the back, DC has been looking a lot more organized and coordinated even if their have been some individual breakdowns here and there. So, even if Angel and Altidore (or God forbid Mathis) manage to light up the nets a few times, Boswell and company should be able to contain the damage to manageable levels.
A real key will be how well Gros contains Dane Richards on the left side of the field. If that turns out to be a one way street coming at us, then DC might be in real trouble. The more Boswell or Erpen are pulled out of the middle to cover, the bigger the edge NY will have. However, while Josh has shown some dicey defensive skills, he should be athletic enough to stay with the speedy Jamaican and maybe even force him back a bit if DC is able to control the ball a lot more than they have lately. It’d be nice if Perkins stands on his head in goal, or NY kicks the ball over the bar like LA did, but as long as DC gives as well as they get, it shouldn’t become a debacle.
That puts the onus squarely on United’s offense to produce as this does not shape up to be a timid match by any stretch. No stacked defenses on either side just packing it in and hoping for a break or waiting for the crucial mistake. Both teams will be looking to control midfield and isolate their forwards to either beat somebody one on one, or slot in an easy finish from quick passing. As mentioned given NY’s current form, you gotta figure they’re going to get theirs; DC just has to get ours.
United’s big three of Emilio, Moreno, and Gomez have accounted for 6 of United’s 7 goals, but I think it’s fair to say none of them has actually played well this year outside of the odd glimmer of brilliance. That has to change if DC expects any kind of result in this match. There’s no Kpene to give Tommy pause in who to play. It will be straight up Moreno and Emilio who have to show they have figured out how to connect with each other.
The key here will be Jaime actually playing forward. He has to stay high and force NY to honor him enough that they can’t collapse on Emilio and mark him out of the game. NY’s makeshift defense with Parke recently back from injury, and Dunivant questionable means that United’s forwards will match up on Parke who wasn’t much good even with two healthy hamstrings, or Taylor Graham who has all the mobility of the Sears Tower. But, matchups on paper mean nothing unless DC’s offense is ready to show what they can do. Moreno has torched NY more than any other team with 21 lifetime goals against them. That’s like a fifth of his total goals scored are against NY. Now would be a good time for numbers 22 and 23.
In midfield, the matchups look much shakier for DC. Reyna and Stammler against Gomez and Carroll is a push at best and more likely the worst will happen. If Olsen plays the left, Richards and either Schopp or Dema at their right back might well have the edge over Benny and Josh. On the right, Fred should have the edge, but then again I’ve been saying that for weeks and he’s yet to follow the plan. So I say Jobu needs to show me he can hit a curve ball or I’m off him. Also, Arena might be smart to put Dema on this side if Dunivant isn’t 100 percent and he’d shut down Fred for sure.
Still, DC has always enjoyed hosting NY in the past. United holds a 13-7-2 edge at RFK that includes wins even in the dark years, like the 2-1 win in June 2001 when NY was the class of the East and DC was reeling at 3-7 on its way to 8-16-2 for the year. In fact NY hasn’t won here since Cheatin’ Bob pulled the old fourth sub shell game in 2003, a stretch which includes a 6-2 pounding of NY in revenge for that loss, as well as knocking them out of the playoffs in their last match here.
But, the bottom line still remains that DC has to show they can play up to their abilities. That really hasn’t happened yet this year, but now would be a great time to break out of their cocoon. Maybe the home field magic of RFK and the competitive juices will be jacked up with the rivalry and the current points situation. Maybe Emilio is prime to have a breakout game. Maybe NY will be overconfident. Maybe. Maybe. Maybe. Enough maybes. It’s time for DC live up to their potential. If DC plays well, this could be a wild 4-3 win, if they play like they have most of the season, it could be that NY hangs a 6-2 pounding on us this time around.