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Behind Enemy Lines: D.C. United Vs. New York Red Bulls

Charlie Davies and Rafael Marquez battle for a ball
Charlie Davies and Rafael Marquez battle for a ball

The last time that DC United met the New York Red Bulls in MLS action, Once A Metro and I exchanged three questions, we had a little bit of fun with it. This corresponding story on the different approaches that the two organizations have used to build their rosters started quite the argument as well.

So what happens now when we do it all over again?

B&RU: Will the Red Bulls be changing formation to suit Dax McCarty? How do you think he'll fit in?

OaM: Much to my surprise, Hans Backe has already switched things up. After persisting with a 4-4-2 diamond throughout this season, the Red Bulls changed to a flat 4-4-2 for their Wednesday night game against Toronto FC, and it was quite effective. Instead of being swamped on the defensive end or forcing the wingers to tuck in when New York loses possession, the pair of holding players (McCarty and Teemu Tainio) allowed the Red Bulls to keep possession and control the pace of the game, much like they did during their strong run of form back in the spring. McCarty has looked quite good thus far, and New York's midfield seems to have much more defensive solidity than it did with Tainio as the sole defensive presence

B&RU: Will McCarty join the long list of American players who accomplish absolutely nothing in New York but Red Bulls fans still brag about them because they go on to have long and fruitful careers in Europe and with the USMNT?

OaM: Dax McCarty will join a long list of brilliant athletes to inhabit the New York metropolitan area. He will soon learn why New York City is The Greatest City In The World™, the home of American culture, history, and intellectual life, and the center of global diplomacy and finance. That is, after we've finished scrubbing the DC marsh mud off of him. He will ignore the swamp denizens wailing around their mud huts down in Washington and become the best ginger player in the history of MLS.

B&RU: The Red Bulls have given up some soft goals lately. Will that continue? Do you expect them to target any goalkeepers in the transfer market?

OaM: I'd argue that the vast majority of goals we've given up this season have been very, very soft. There have been lots of cheap ones from set pieces or goalkeeping errors. Whenever Rafael Márquez finally makes his return after more than a month out due to injuries and Gold Cup duty, the Red Bulls should improve a bit in defense, but with Roy Miller at left back, New York will always be vulnerable to attacks down that side.

As for the goalkeeping situation, I can't see any way that the Red Bulls don't pick someone up in the transfer window. GM Erik Solér has already stated that the front office wants to sign a defender and a "certain player," which I think probably means a goalkeeper. Over the last five games, neither of our main goalkeepers (Greg Sutton and Bouna Coundoul) has started two in a row because both keep making mistakes and giving up goals. Sutton and the defense kept a clean sheet on Wednesday, so he will probably start again this Saturday. However, anyone who saw him against Portland or Seattle -- or up against any free kick this season -- can see exactly why the club and the fans want someone new between the posts. One of Coundoul or Sutton will probably be shipped out, and New York will bring a new 'keeper (I have no clue who) in via a trade or through the European transfer window.

B&RU: Not a question, but if you have any tips on how to stop Thierry Henry and Jan Gunnar Solli, please share. We could really use them.

OaM: Although I know you mentioned this in jest, you have given me the opportunity to write about two of my favorite things in football: Thierry Henry and attacking fullbacks. Since scoring on a great diving header against San Jose in April, Henry has been on a tear: excellent in his build-up and positively clinical in front of goal. His opener against Toronto was a perfect example; after receiving the ball near the six-yard box from a Luke Rodgers flick-on, he opened up his body, allowed Stefan Frei to commit, and then calmly slotted into the back of the net. The only weakness Henry has right now is his fitness. At 33, he's just not able to run and run like he could for Arsenal, and he tends to drift out of games to conserve energy at times. He's also missed a number of away games due to injuries, and probably has some long-term knocks that he has kept under wraps. MLS is not a haven for attacking fullbacks, and a fair number of the league's wide defenders are probably converted centerbacks. Jan Gunnar Solli is actually a wide or attacking midfielder, so perhaps it's not particularly surprising that he is more enterprising -- and good going forward -- than many other fullbacks in this league. He's not the best defensively, but he can be quite incisive in the opposition's half, as DC saw in the first meeting between the two sides this season when Solli bagged three assists. Unfortunately for New York, Solli has also been troubled by some injury concerns, but just like fellow Nordic Red Bulls Joel Lindpere and Teemu Tainio, he has played through the pain and performed very well. Probably the best way to keep Solli from wreaking havoc in the DC defense will be to push up a winger or a fullback against him on that right side. However, the problem for DC would then be that Dane Richards could cause all kinds of havoc on the left side of DC's defense.

OaM: One of the main talking points coming into this game is certainly the Dwyane De Rosario-Dax McCarty trade, as both players will have the chance to confront their old clubs just a week and a half after the switch. Although we haven't seen much of him in a DC jersey, how has De Rosario fared so far in his short time for United, and how do you think he will perform on Saturday?

B&RU: His impact was clear last week against the Philadelphia Union. De Rosario set up the team's first goal with an assist to Josh Wolff, and created multiple other chances. As he continues to gain chemistry with Wolff, Charlie Davies, Andy Najar, and Chris Pontius, the D.C. offense will be a major force. As for Saturday, its hard to say whether the familiarity will work for or against De Rosario. Having spent so much time matched up vs. Tim Ream, Rafael Marquez, and Teemu Tainio in practice in New York, does DeRo know their weaknesses and exactly how to beat them? Or have they already figured out his moves enough to neutralize him?

OaM: Although the Red Bulls have been shipping goals at an alarming rate in the last two months, DC has the second-worst defense in MLS. Facing the best attack in the league this weekend, what might Ben Olsen change for Saturday's game, or will he simply try to out-score New York?

B&RU: United has solved its attacking problems from last year, but is still giving up two goals or more in almost every match. But no, I wouldn't expect to see any changes to the starting lineup that D.C. used last week. With Jed Zayner injured again and Dejan Jakovic still working his way back, they really don't have any other options, besides hoping that the young backline continues to gel and that newly acquired Brandon McDonald quickly develops a good partnership with rookies Ethan White and Perry Kitchen.

OaM: Please explain this picture. Thank you.

B&RU: That's a picture of our head coach Ben Olsen. Ask him to explain it and he'll probably laugh it off. Ask him a second time and he'll steal your lunch money then score a goal over you for good measure.

Okay, here's the serious answer. Olsen came across a family of tigers on one of his several rescue missions in Africa. These particular tigers were harassing a tribe of endangered sloths. Olsen removed his shirt and fought off the tigers with his bare hands, chest hair ablaze. He kept the head of a small tiger that he had decapitated as a trophy. Whether you believe this story or not, it remains definitive that the number of trophies won by Ben Olsen while fighting sloth-hating tigers in Africa is greater than or equal to the number of trophies won by New York in 16 years of existence.