It was just over a month ago that the New York Red Bulls marched into Washington, D.C. for the second-ever game at Audi Field, walking away with three points against D.C. United. Bradley Wright-Phillips struck early, tearing off his jersey to celebrate his 100th goal in regular season play in MLS, and the Red Bulls held on for a 1-0 win in the first installment of the Atlantic Cup in 2018.
On Sunday, the Black-and-Red will roll into Red Bull Arena with a different swagger than the team had a month ago. Wayne Rooney lit the league on fire with his play against Orlando City, which helped United run up a streak of three consecutive wins, with victories in four of their last five games since the defeat to the Red Bulls.
United’s play is something that those in Harrison, New Jersey have taken notice of.
“The spirits [are] high,” head coach Chris Armas told the media on Friday, in quotes provided by the New York Red Bulls. “They’re riding momentum of winning.”
July’s tilt was Rooney’s third appearance for United. In his debut against the Vancouver Whitecaps, the striker came off the bench and provided an assist in the second half for Paul Arriola. Rooney got the start the next week against Atlanta United, in a game in which United were beaten 3-1.
Rooney came off the bench against the Red Bulls, but couldn’t help the team overturn the one goal deficit. Since then, Rooney has scored three goals and assisted on two others, starting in all five games.
“He’s quality, world class, obviously, so he’s a guy that makes people around him better,” added Armas. “And look at the play he made few weeks ago. He’s doing everything he can to help the team win right now and he’s making a lot of great plays.”
One element that will come into play on Sunday is in what each team will expect from the other on the field. Before the first game against the Red Bulls, United head coach Ben Olsen noted that that D.C.’s rivals didn’t seem to have changed too much since the departure of Jesse Marsch.
And again this week, Olsen noted that his team knows exactly what to expect from New York, for better or worse.
“We’re different. They’re not,” Olsen said of how the two sides have changed since last month. “That’s a good and bad thing. It’s a good thing that you know what they are going to do, and how they are going to go about the game. The bad part is they are pretty good about what they do.”
For United, the obvious change has been getting Rooney fully integrated with the team. United had some bright moments in the first half of the season, when they spent most of their time on the road, biding time until Audi Field was ready to go. But those moments were few and far between, and United only had one win on the road, to go along with a home win against the Columbus Crew in Annapolis.
But all of that was before Rooney. And the change in how United operates on the field is quite different from even a month ago, when the Red Bulls beat United at Buzzard Point.
“[I] think you can see they’re developing and they’re a different team than at the beginning of the season, and I think [Rooney] changed a lot,” midfielder Daniel Royer said on Friday. “That’s an impact from a great player.”
Though the wounds from their only defeat at Audi Field are still somewhat fresh for the Black-and-Red, Sunday’s game isn’t viewed as a chance to get revenge for United. Instead, according to defender Kofi Opare, there is an opportunity for United to remain on track, to get even closer to the elusive playoff spot that the team will be chasing for the rest of the season.
“We want to win games,” Opare told B&RU on Wednesday. “We want to build on our momentum.”