D.C. United’s rare midday game against the New York Red Bulls is not a must-win in the mathematical sense, or even in the “playoff teams win this game” sense of Wednesday’s narrow win over Minnesota. However, with their competition in the race for the East’s final playoff spot all picking up points yesterday, there’s a lot of pressure on the Black-and-Red to get three points. We don’t need this one...but we need this one.
There’s the added aspect of who they’re playing. The Red Bulls are the most odious team in MLS, and unfortunately they’ve had United’s number in recent years. They’ve won both of this season’s meetings, and over the last 21 games United has a woeful 4W-5D-12L record against their hated rivals. There has been progress in each of this year’s meetings, with United moving from “almost snatched a point” to “probably should have won that game,” but ultimately the only way to change the balance of this rivalry is to win.
Key player: Wayne Rooney
We could choose Rooney here in every game, but we’ve tried to avoid doing so because it’s so obvious. Today, though, United needs their best player to be the best player on the field. That doesn’t just mean playing those slick one-touch passes to free runners up to get in on goal, or those early passes into space that no one else would have seen, though that stuff certainly helps.
Instead, poor finishing squandered some good chances, and Rooney just so happens to be the best finisher on the team. D.C. will take goals any way they can get them against a team that has shut them out in three of the last five meetings, and it feels like the most likely source of those goals today is Rooney calling his own number a little more often. For United to break this hold the Red Bulls have on them, it’s going to take a little extra from everyone, but especially from the Black-and-Red’s star attraction.
Location: Audi Field (Washington, DC)
Kickoff time: 1:00pm Eastern
Projected D.C. United starting 11: (4231) - Bill Hamid; Oniel Fisher, Kofi Opare, Steven Birnbaum, Joseph Mora; Junior Moreno, Russell Canouse; Paul Arriola, Luciano Acosta, Zoltan Stieber; Wayne Rooney
Bench: Travis Worra, Frederic Brillant, Kevin Ellis, Chris Durkin, Ulises Segura, Yamil Asad, Darren Mattocks
There’s not a lot of rotation here, but some of that hinges on the health of Asad, who is still listed as questionable. If he can start, he will probably replace Arriola; if he’s still not fit to play, his spot in the 18 will probably go to Ian Harkes. Elsewhere, there’s at least a chance Ellis replaces Fisher (who only just returned from a hamstring issue) at right back. Other than that, though, the only changes to really expect are Stieber replacing Segura and Moreno stepping in for Durkin.
Projected NYRB starting 11: (4231) - Luis Robles; Michael Murillo, Aaron Long, Tim Parker, Kemar Lawrence; Marc Rzatkowski, Tyler Adams; Derrick Etienne Jr., Kaku Gamarra, Daniel Royer; Bradley Wright-Phillips
If this looks familiar, it’s the same lineup that Chris Armas fielded when the Red Bulls came to town a couple of weeks ago. There’s a chance that Sean Davis could start, with Rzatkowski moving to the right wing or to the bench, or that Alex Muyl could replace Etienne, but it feels probable that this is their best group.
Referee: Alan Kelly
Available TV: ESPN
Available streaming: WatchESPN, ESPN+
For listings in other countries, check out LiveSoccerTV.com.
What are you drinking?: I’ll be leaving home shortly after breakfast because of this kickoff time, so I’ll probably grab a cup of coffee (hot, not iced) somewhere along the way. Big change, I know.
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