By TRAVIS CLARK
The last time New York visited RFK Stadium, Juan Carlos Osorio labeled it one of the worst performances he had ever coached. The 5-3 drubbing in that U.S. Open Cup play-in game will be something New York needs to have forgotten as they return to once again take on conference rivals D.C. United.
United, victims of poor finishing and a dubious referee decision last Saturday against New England, will rely on the comforts of home to end a five game winless streak in league play. Most of those have been draws, but to keep pace with Chicago three points are vital.
Scoring goals hasn’t been the issue this season for D.C., as they boast the second-best goal scoring mark in the league. What’s been difficult for them is keeping them out, even with the solid defensive play of Bryan Namoff and Dejan Jakovic. Containing the speedy Macoumba Kandji will no doubt be one of United’s highest priorities.
From a New York stand point, there’s no point in dwelling on their last visit to RFK. Anytime spent pondering that, and the Red Bull will already be fighting an uphill battle. Burying any lingering thoughts from that and attacking United from the opening whistle is essential.
Here is a closer look at tonight's match-up:
Players to Watch
In order for New York to achieve any success, whether this week or the rest of the season, they need Juan Pablo Angel to be at the peak of his game. Despite tallying four goals so far, Angel has missed a few opportunities that if he had converted, may have turned losses or draws into wins. It hasn’t been all Angel’s fault, however, as the service to him hasn’t been very good. A big, break out game against one of the club’s biggest rivals would do wonders for both him and the Red Bulls.
Finding an offensive rhythm early on is important for United, who have mustered just one goal in their past two games – paltry by their standards. They’ll want to quickly forget their last scoreless outing at home against Real Salt Lake, and test Jon Conway early. Striker Luciano Emilio will be out looking for an early goal that would have the Red Bulls on the ropes, ready to circle in for a knockout blow. Tenacious play from him up front would surely help to jump-start the offense into a higher gear.
Five Keys to the Game
1. Get off to a fast start – From either a United or a Red Bulls perspective, getting that first goal will be absolutely crucial. A D.C. goal will get the crowd energized and in full voice, while New York can try to silence the raucous United supporters with an early goal.
2. Finish chances – Both sides have struggled in the finishing department during this season. United has the tendency to create numerous chances, yet fail to convert – hence the number of draws. Goals win games and both teams will be out for first blood.
3. Steady keeper play – Josh Wicks seems to have a firm grasp on the number one jersey as of now. While that may change, another solid performance from him is vital – no leaking easy goals. Jon Conway, on the other hand, might be called upon to keep things close if United threaten his goal early and often.
4. Outnumber the United backline – Playing a 3-5-2 can have its pitfalls if exploited properly. The Red Bulls need to get numbers forward to try and cause confusion between the United defense and midfield as they try and mark up in transition.
5. Rely on the rookies – D.C. United rookies Rodney Wallace and Chris Pontius have both played far beyond their years to this point in 2009. Both came up big against the Red Bull up at Giants Stadium, and if they both can play a big role to help United secure three points once again.
Odds & Ends
Jeremy Hall and Rodney Wallace, teammates at the University of Maryland go up against each other for the third (and most likely final) time this season.
D.C. is undefeated at home this season, though have tied four times in six games.
Four players are unavailable for tonight’s game because of national team duty. For D.C., defender Avery John is with Trinidad & Tobago in preparation for weekend qualifiers. Jorge Rojas, Alfredo Pacheco, and Andrew Boyens are absent for the Red Bulls.
New York has yet to win a game on the road this season, posting a 0-4-1 record away from Giants Stadium.
What do you think of tonight's match-up? Can the Red Bulls get a result at RFK, or will D.C. continue to dominate their rivals from up north?
Share your thoughts below.