The outlook doesn’t look good for the hosts either as DC is not only 0-4 on the season but is also in the midst of a decidedly cruel streak of injuries that has decimated their starting lineup. On the other hand, the Red Bulls are flying having won 4 or their first 5 matches for the first time in their history as well as adding players like they cornered the market in the soccer flesh derivatives.
DC United is, however, coming off a confidence boosting win over Dallas in the US Open Cup. Even if it was a battle of reserves that DC won mainly through the brilliance of their outstanding teenager Andy Najar, a win is a win and DC desperately needed to generate some kind of momentum heading into a crucial stretch of their MLS season where they will face 8 games in 28 days including their next Open Cup match against RSL and the AC Milan friendly along with 6 huge MLS matches (4 at home) that could decide their MLS playoff fate if they don’t start collecting points in a hurry.
Unfortunately, United’s depth heading into this crowded calendar is quite a concern, but at least one reinforcement is on the way and may be able to play this weekend. Apparently both Emilio and DC United discovered they needed each other quite a bit more than either would like to admit. With DC only scoring two gifted goals in league play (and with injuries to both starting forwards Pontius and Allsopp) and Emilio discovering he doesn’t command as much money as he thinks he should, the two sides have reached an agreement at least until the August transfer window. So, DC’s former league MVP striker could play against NY if his paperwork clears before game time.
Now, if Emilio can play and is any kind of decent shape, United’s offense will be in as good a shape as it has been all year since no one has really distinguished themselves on the attacking end. But, Moreno and Emilio backed up by Quaranta and Castillo can certainly be a pretty potent force if they put their minds to it. Moreno (with 24 goals and 18 assists lifetime against NY) and Emilio can partner well together and neither will be that afraid of familiar former DC defender Mike Petke and the rookie revelation Tim Ream in NY’s central defense, although both are playing very well. Santino playing the right will need to pin back NY’s Costa Rican left back, Roy Miller who loves to fly forward, but Castillo goes against their weakest defender in former Terp teammate of Wallace, Jeremy Hall on the other side.
DC’s defense is much more of a concern as all of United’s central defenders are likely out for the match and filling those positions puts a crimp in the right side of defense as Namoff continues to be out recovering from a concussion. Jakovic and James are out for certain with a broken collarbone and a strained groin respectively, and while Pena is probable coming back from a hamstring strain, it seems a bit chancey to start him so soon given his age and United’s limited resources should he re-injure himself and be out even longer.
So, most likely it will be Talley and utility man Devon McTavish covering in the center of defense which they did admirably in the Open Cup win. However, that was against Dallas’ reserve forwards, one guy even I didn’t recognize. It will be a much different scenario going up against NY’s forwards, who are as good as it gets in MLS. Angel is the highest scoring player in the league over the past three years with 45 goals in 65 or so matches, and their new 6’4’’ Ghanaian forward out of Denmark, Salou Ibrahim just got his first goal of the season last week against Philly. So, those two will obviously be a concern for Onalfo’s decimated defense to contain.
Plus, without Talley or McTavish to play on the right, rookie Jordan Graye seems to be the most likely choice to cover, but that is a huge concern as well. Graye showed a lot of skill and was pretty smooth on the ball in the Open Cup win, but he struggled mightily against Brek Shea, which doesn’t bode well for him going against Brian Nielsen, whom the Red Bulls also just picked up from the Danish league. He’s as fast as anyone in the league and obviously much more accomplished than Shea. Even Wallace on the left is a huge concern as he’s not played well at all defensively this season and he’s going to have to handle a suddenly competent Dane Richards. Richards has always been speed and no skill, but now he’s showing some real glimpses of influential play to go with that blazing speed.
It’s really not much better for DC in midfield even with the very likely return of Clyde Simms to the starting lineup. He and Barklage will have their hands full with former TFC hard man Carl Robinson (or former Terp, Seth Stammler) as well as NY’s very good two way talent, Estonian central midfielder Joel Lindpere. Then obviously Santino and Castillo will have to help out against Richards and Nielsen and playing a lot of defense is something neither of those players relishes. But, if they play too far back allowing Hall and especially Miller to join NY’s attack regularly, DC would be in real trouble.
So, no matter how you slice it DC is not the favorite on paper in any way shape or form. But, at least the intangibles solidly favor United. I doubt any team in MLS has a better winning percentage over any other team than DC’s 29-17-6 record over NY since the league began. Even better, DC is 17-7-3 against them lifetime in RFK and has only lost once to NY since 2003, going 8-1-3 over the past six years outscoring NY 33 to 16, including sweeping the series with a 2-0 shutout here last June. Now granted, DC has not looked pretty at RFK yet this year, but NY isn’t exactly a road juggernaut yet either. Red Bull have had only one road win in almost two years, although it was at Seattle a mere three weeks ago.
So there you go. DC certainly isn’t the favorites, but maybe a little of that old magic against this latest incarnation out of NY will spark the soccer gods to join United’s side this time around. Seems like no matter how bad the season, DC has always managed to find a way to beat NY in RFK. Even in the dark ages when DC was horrible and NY was winning the division or near the top of the table, DC always beat NY at least once at home. United only had 8 wins in each of 2000 and 2001, but one of those wins each year was a over NY in RFK, and United swept NY here in 2002 but didn’t make the playoffs that year either. The last two years, DC didn’t make the playoffs either, but were undefeated against NY with a win and a tie in 2008 and that shutout win last year.
This would be the time to do it as NY is playing maybe a bit above themselves lately. They are 4-1 and defiantly good, but Philly outplayed them by far last week and their defense has given up some bad goals. Coundoul has looked like a brick wall or swiss cheese depending on the week, so they are certainly beatable as Chivas showed two weeks ago. Granted DC has looked far worse and has the results to show for it, but United got a boost with a win in the Open Cup, and if they can get something positive going early against NY, they can pull off the upset, no question.
How deliciously appropriate if United’s first win of 2010 is a stunner over the top team in the East, their old rivals from Jersey.