As is our wont here at B&RU, we exchanged a few questions with our SB Nation sister site Once a Metro to help us preview this weekend's impending Atlantic Cup clash between the forces of good, D.C. United, and the wayward souls of the New York Red Bulls. Big thanks to OaM's Dan Ferris, who was good enough to contribute this week.
Questions for Once a Metro
1. So, how does it feel to be responsible for 75% of the Chicago Fire's goals this year?
Going into the game, I had a feeling that Chicago was due for a breakout game. Granted, I predicted New York to win but that's neither here nor there. The Fire and New York have both completely retooled their lineups and whether you spend $10 million or $2.5 million on players it will always take time for teams to develop a rhythm. What concerns me is that DC United is also overdue for a big offensive game, and defensively New York is having the opposite problem of recent years. Instead of always conceding goals early and playing from behind, they are imploding in the final ten minutes of games and dropping points that should be in the bag.
Short answer: It doesn't feel good.
1a. That match in Chicago last weekend must have involved a different Metros team than played D.C. United in Harrison last month. That team controlled possession against United and did everything but put the ball past Bill Hamid in what many have described as the "good kind" of scoreless draw. What happened between March 16 and April 7?
The biggest difference was the absence of both Thierry Henry and Fabian Espindola from the starting lineup. Sometimes, offense is the best defense, and the Red Bulls weren't able to string together enough possession or threaten Chicago's back line in the second half to take some of the pressure off their own defenders which has been remarkably inconsistent to start the year.
2. When we last spoke, you indicated that you might not be shocked by a slow start for the Red Bulls as they integrated new pieces into the lineup. Nevertheless, has the one step forward, two steps back in the first month-plus of the year taken you by surprise?
Yes. I thought by this point they would be much tighter and playing effective soccer. Not necessarily the beautiful game just quite yet, but with the pieces they have I think they're struggling to implement a new fluid 4-3-3 system when in reality players like Dax McCarty, Eric Alexander, and Johnny Steele are going to thrive in more of a grind-it-out workhorse style. Thierry Henry has shown that whether he's on the field for ninety mintues or twenty he can find the back of the net. The defensive blunders must be driving head coach Mike Petke and his assistant Robin Fraser, who are both defensive-minded coaches, crazy.
3. Thierry Henry has only started half of the Red Bulls' games this year. What's up with that?
Many fans thought, and with good reason, that Henry had a very minor, dare I say fake, injury to avoid playing on the atrocious turf up at Montreal. Alas, it turns out he's actually been nursing a sprained knee and, no big deal, still managed to score an 81st minute game winning goal against our Diet Rivals the Philadelphia Union in an appearance off the bench. The early injury woes don't bother me much because Henry did stay with the team during preseason instead of going off on loan again to Arsenal. I just hope 90-minute Henry returns soon because the Red Bulls need as much help from their Designated Players as they can get.
3a. How does the team play differently with Henry on the field versus not.
When Henry is on the field, much of possession and the attack moves through him. Sometimes that's a good thing and sometimes depending on the opponent it feels a bit one-dimensional. Early on, it seemed like everyone except Henry was trigger-shy inside an opponent's eighteen yard box. That changed with the introduction of Peguy Luyindula up top, although his shots haven't been very effective or on-target. When Henry is not on the field, the run of play is a bit more all over the place for better or worse, and there isn't any other player on the roster who gives the sense that something spectacular could occur at any moment.
3b. Should we expect to see Henry's name in the XI come Saturday night?
Yes. And just like DC is due a big game offensively, so is Henry.
Questions for B&RU
1) Going back a couple of weeks, what did you think of the March 16th tie between DC and New York? Expecting any response from the DC fans at RFK to the "Revenge is Here" tifo?
Is it possible to be both proud and ashamed of a performance? Last month's match at Red Bull Arena was a study in valiant defending by D.C. United's back line - particularly the central defensive partnership of Brandon McDonald and Dejan Jakovic (or McDonkovic, if you prefer) - and head-standing by goalkeeper Bill Hamid. It's hard to be anything but proud of their ability to withstand the home team's onslaught without conceding a goal. Meanwhile, nobody playing for the forces of good seemed to understand what to do with the ball at their feet, and United consequently failed to create much of anything going forward. That game was the worst-case example of a problem that United hasn't solved yet this year.
As for the tifo, I asked an on-field credentialed member of one of the supporters' groups, who is also involved in the development and execution of RFK's big recent tifos, and here's his response, verbatim: "We don't pay much mind to their yawn-inducing attempts to gain attention and relevance after nearly 20 years of fail." So, I guess I would expect to see something around kickoff on Saturday, but it wont' be any direct response to "[Scoreless draw] is Here."
2) DC and New York are both off to disappointingly slow starts to the season. DC's main problem seems to be scoring goals. Dwayne De Rosario has only played two games after a preseason violent conduct suspension and an adductor strain, but what has been the problem offensively?
A lot of people will immediately jump up and say "Lionard Pajoy." The Colombian hasn't been good this year, but he's as much a symptom of the problems plaguing Ben Olsen's side as he is a cause. As I mentioned in response to the last question, though, the main culprit has been bad play with the ball across the whole team. Take Chris Pontius, who scored 12 goals last year on his way to an MLS Best XI nod, for example; he has been tentative and slow in his decision-making and generally unwilling to take players on. The wings and forwards haven't been making incisive runs, and when they do, nobody from deeper has been able to find them. Add to that misplaced passes, and the absences of De Rosario and newcomer John Thorrington (the man of the match in United's one win this year, against Real Salt Lake, in which he suffered an injury that has knocked him out of the lineup for several weeks), and we have a team that hasn't had an attacking presence in midfield.
3) On loan from Fluminense, 22-year-old midfielder Raphael Augusto made his first start for DC last Friday night against Sporting Kansas City. For Red Bull fans who might have missed the game, how do you think he did? How big of a role will he play with the team moving forward?
It's like you anticipated where I was going with that last answer! Raphael Augusto, as a #8-type two-way central midfielder, might be a big part of the answer to United's attacking woes. Even though KC ultimately out-possessed United over the course 90 minutes, Augusto's quick chemistry with Perry Kitchen, passing range and ability to hold the ball under tight pressure helped D.C. keep the ball for much of the first 20 or 30 minutes of the match. He calmed the team down and kept the ball moving in a way we haven't really seen much of this year. He was stationed deep in midfield in that game, level with Kitchen, so he might not be the solution to that missing final thrust of attack that's so-far eluded the Black-and-Red this season. All in all, it wasn't a perfect performance, but it was encouraging enough that most of us want to see more of him. And with new young Designated Player Rafael "Gladiador" rounding into 90-minute fitness and DeRo returning to the side, hopefully we'll see this new combination pay dividends early and often.
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As always, give us your take in the comments. Think that United are due for a better offensive outing, or will Henry & Co. get the better of the boys in black?