Two of MLS’s form teams face off today as D.C. United heads up to New Jersey to take on the New York Red Bulls. United has reeled off three straight wins, bringing life to a season that was drifting away from them just as the playoffs loom. The Red Bulls, meanwhile, have won two in a row to bounce back from a three-game losing streak. The winner of this game will have a major advantage in the pursuit for 4th place in the East, which is to say that this game is going to go a long way towards determining who gets a guaranteed home playoff game.
On top of all that, it’s also the Atlantic Cup. Given the controversy and animosity that came out during last month’s meeting at Audi Field, expect this game to be a fiery, intense clash between MLS’s original rivals.
Key player: Felipe
With the Red Bulls adopting the league’s most aggressive high-press at home, the challenge to beating them is two-fold: Can individual players maintain the ball with less time than normal? And can those players move the ball along, preferably into the spaces that are left open due to NYRB sending multiple players towards the ball?
It’s easy to explain, but their success with that tactic tells you how hard it is to actually execute. United’s defenders and holding midfielders are going to be hounded by red shirts, and the object as far as the Red Bulls is concerned is to force turnovers or low-percentage long passes. The weakness is that they’re going to leave space either in behind their high defensive line, or on the opposite flank.
Every player has to play at a consistently high level on and off the ball, but perhaps no one will be challenged more than Felipe. He’s been the conduit between the defense and the attack since arriving, and his range of passes, close control, and vision could be just what United needs to punish the Red Bulls for their risky style of play.
Location: Red Bull Arena (Harrison, NJ)
Kickoff time: 5:00pm Eastern...but FS1’s pregame show almost always runs 25 minutes, so expect the game to get going at 5:25 instead
Projected D.C. United starting 11: (4231) - Bill Hamid; Russell Canouse, Frederic Brillant, Steven Birnbaum, Joseph Mora; Felipe, Junior Moreno; Ulises Segura, Paul Arriola, Lucas Rodriguez; Wayne Rooney
Bench: Chris Seitz, Donovan Pines, Leonardo Jara, Luciano Acosta, Emmanuel Boateng, Quincy Amarikwa, Ola Kamara
There’s no reason to expect Ben Olsen to disrupt the lineup that has helped United to their current three-game winning streak (the longest such streak they’ve had all year). So the only update, really, is that Ola Kamara has been upgraded to probable. He’s probably not someone they’re going to throw in from the very start just yet, but he’ll probably get significant time off the bench.
That’ll most likely cost Marquinhos Pedroso his spot in the 18, which is probably the only change to the gameday squad. However, Pedroso appears to have made the trip north, so there may still be a pre-game fitness test for Kamara before his name is written onto the list.
Projected NYRB starting 11: (4312) - Luis Robles; Kyle Duncan, Tim Parker, Aaron Long, Kemar Lawrence; Cristian Casseres Jr., Sean Davis, Marc Rzatkowski; Kaku; Tom Barlow, Daniel Royer
This might be going out on a limb, as the Red Bulls have played a 4231 in three of their last four games. However, Chris Armas used a midfield diamond when the Red Bulls came to Audi Field, and the Philadelphia Union have caused D.C. major problems using the same formation, so it feels like that’s what NYRB will do again today.
However, if Armas does prefer the 4231 set-up, expect Royer on the left wing and Casseres alongside Davis as a holding midfielder. It’s unclear whether they’ll prefer new winger Josh Sims on the right with either Kaku or Rzatkowski as the attacking midfielder, or if Rzatkowski will go out on the right with Kaku as the playmaker.
Referee: Ramy Touchan
Available TV: Fox Sports 1 Fox Deportes
Available streaming: Fox Sports Go
For listings in other countries, check out LiveSoccerTV.com.
What are you drinking?: I could go for a margarita, so I’m going to make myself a margarita.
This is the place for all your pre-game, in-game, and post-game discussion.