As we all know by now, D.C. United welcomes the New York Red Bulls to the friendly confines of RFK Stadium this Sunday afternoon. To preview the game, we talked to Matt Coyne of Once A Metro to get the lowdown on all things Metro.
Questions for Once A Metro
B&RU: After winning the Supporters' Shield last year, New York is in the middle of five teams competing for the last three playoff spots. What is different this year over last?
OaM: For the first time in the history of the team, the Red Bulls decided to stay pat with what they had this past off-season. After all, it did win them the Supporters' Shield the year before. Why make too many changes, right?
Well, that strategy has backfired. The team's been stuck in second gear all year, and with moves for players like Armando, Bobby Convey and Richard Eckersley -- veterans brought in with the hopes they'd help us in a fixture-congested season -- there's little cap space left to add players that could help.
So we're left with a team that's stuck in what feels like a perpetual preseason. Every time there's a positive, like coming back against the New England Revolution or the Montreal Impact, there's an equal and opposite negative, like laying eggs against the Chicago Fire.
B&RU: Since D.C. United and New York won the same amount of trophies last year, both are in the CCL. How much do Mike Petke and company care about this tournament?
OaM: If we use the line-up he put out Tuesday against CD FAS, then pretty seriously. He played a good mix of young players and first team regulars. Guys like Peguy Luyindula, Eric Alexander and even Tim Cahill got minutes, but so did newcomers like Damien Perrinelle and the seldom-used, but highly-paid Eckersley.
The games against FAS, too, are the "lay up" games, the type of games the Red Bulls should be winning without incident. And they did. The real test will be their two games against the Montreal Impact, but if Petke is willing to trot out regulars against a middling Salvadorian team, I expect a strong line-up against the Canadian champions.
B&RU: Do you think Thierry Henry will retire at the end of the season? If he does, what does NYRB need to do to compete for mindshare in the first season of NYCFC?
OaM: My honest answer is that I'm not sure. For a long time I thought Henry would hang it up at the end of the year, but the way he's playing, I think he's beginning to realize he's got more in the tank than he thought. I'm not even sure if he knows what he's going to do, as he keeps avoiding the question during interviews.
As far as dealing with the new competition next door, the Red Bulls just need to build a consistent winning team (yes, I can hear the laughter from DC fans reading this). There's this idea that you need star power to compete in New York and there's some merit to that idea. There are a lot of Eurosnobs in the city and MLS is far below baseball, the NFL, NBA and NHL in the fight for attention.
But I've spent my whole life a New York sports fan and the players who were revered weren't necessarily the stars, they were the types who went about doing their job very well. The best example of this is the late 90's Yankees: One of the best baseball teams of all time, and some of the most popular players from that era are guys like Paul O'Neil, Tino Martinez and Bernie Williams, hardly Hall of Famers. Even Derek Jeter is best remembered for diving head first into the stand for a foul ball, not necessarily the kind of play you'd associated with a super star. And there's a reason why Rangers fans loved Ryan Callahan more than Rick Nash or Brad Richards.
That's my long winded way of saying the Red Bulls need to make a blueprint -- hell, just copy teams like Real Salt Lake or Sporting Kansas City -- and follow it. Build something more than a slapdash collection of whatever players are willing to sign a deal.
OaM: Line-up: Robles; Miller, Olave, Sekagya, Duvall; Oyongo, McCarty, Cahill, Sam; Henry, Wright-Phillips
Score: 1-1 Draw
Questions for Black and Red United
OaM: We're all well aware how terrible DC was last season, and while we were hoping they'd continue to be terrible, that hasn't been the case. What's been the biggest catalyst for United's turnaround?
B&RU: The biggest catalyst for D.C. United' turn-around is the fact that they went out in the last offseason and acquired MLS veterans who have had proven success in this league. United decided after the 2012 season just the bring back the same cast of characters, which only works for the very best teams in the league. Instead of regressing to the mean, as would have been more expected, the team completely imploded for one of the worst seasons in MLS history. This past offseason, they acquired players like Eddie Johnson, Sean Franklin, Fabian Espindola, Bobby Boswell, Davy Arnaud, Jeff Parke, and Chris Rolfe, all who have proven themselves as effective starters in this league. When you surround players like Bill Hamid, Perry Kitchen, Nick DeLeon, and Luis Silva with players of that caliber, everyone improves.
OaM: How is Ben Olsen and company dealing with the increased scheduling demands of the CONCACAF Champions League?
B&RU: For the first Champions League game, Olsen played a lineup completely comprised of backups; no one who had started on the previous weekend had played. After an early Eddie Johnson goal, the team rode out a boring 1-0 win over Waterhouse FC. Now that Tauro has lost twice to Waterhouse, it makes United's road to the next round even easier. A win when Tauro comes to RFK Stadium and a tie anywhere else should do it. Their next match is away to Waterhouse, and I expect a similar lineup as to the one we saw last week.
OaM: There's a feeling in our fan base that the Atlantic Cup is getting short shrift compared to other rivalries in MLS, despite being the league's oldest. Would you agree?
B&RU: I would definitely agree. The disdain between these two teams has never waned and goes back all the way to 1996. Other than usually being aired on national television, although not always, the league really doesn't do anything else to promote these games. While they are not the same kind of spectacle that is Cascadia, this rivalry reminds the league where it comes from and reminds it of its roots. I would love to see everyone give it a little more deference.
B&RU: Lineup: Bill Hamid; Sean Franklin, Bobby Boswell, Steve Birnbaum, Taylor Kemp; Nick DeLeon, Davy Arnaud, Perry Kitchen, Chris Rolfe; Eddie Johnson, Fabian Espindola.
Prediction: It will be hot, RFK will be rocking, and NYRB hasn't played well on the road. 3-1 to the forces of Light and Goodness.