Just a couple of weeks ago, D.C. United seemed destined for the postseason, while New York Red Bulls season obituaries were being readied, but the situation has been flipped on its head as MLS’s original rivalry picks back up tonight at Audi Field. United, winless in four matches and deprived of multiple key starters, has fallen below the red line, while the Red Bulls — arguably the most in-form team in MLS at the moment — have surged up the Eastern Conference standings and into 6th place.
With the Black-and-Red sitting two points out of a playoff spot and having just three games left to make the ground up, it’s not being dramatic to call tonight’s match a must-win. A loss would leave United in “needing several miracles” territory, while a win would at worst vault them ahead of NYRB and CF Montréal and into a playoff spot.
Key player: Any defender with the ball at their feet
The question tonight, if you might indulge us a graphic novel reference, is: who presses the pressers? Both teams are built around their high-pressing approach, which means both sides are going to be trying to force turnovers. That means two things: first, if you’re a United defender on the ball, avoiding the kind of gaffes that have resulted in goals against lately is paramount. The season appears to be hanging on getting through tonight without any catastrophic giveaways tonight.
Secondly, what does United want to do with the ball? The last time the Red Bulls came to the District, United got a 27th minute lead and then essentially insisted that the visitors have the ball, conceding over 60% of the possession while making life hell for their old rival. Despite having all of the ball in a game state demanding they create chances, NYRB attempted just four shots on the night.
If United gets off to the kind of start they often do at Audi Field, we may see a risk avoidance tactic play out, with DCU defenders going long and putting the onus on the Red Bulls to a) avoid giving the ball away like we just discussed, and b) break down a team that is among the most disruptive in MLS.
Location: Audi Field (Washington, DC)
Kickoff time: 7:30pm Eastern
Projected D.C. United starting 11: (343) - Bill Hamid; Donovan Pines, Steven Birnbaum, Tony Alfaro; Julian Gressel, Russell Canouse, Junior Moreno, Kevin Paredes; Nigel Robertha, Ola Kamara, Adrien Perez
Bench: Jon Kempin, Brendan Hines-Ike, Chris Odoi-Atsem, Joseph Mora, Felipe Martins, Drew Skundrich, Griffin Yow, Yamil Asad, Ramón Ábila
The injury report has expanded up to six names (though all six were already in doubt days ago), and United has confirmed to B&RU that no loanees are being brought back from Loudoun. That means a total of 21 players available for tonight, so picking the gameday squad was not complicated! It’s really just a matter of whether Asad’s apparent exile continues (meaning three goalkeepers in uniform) or not.
The other question here is whether Hernán Losada wants to go back to playing three forwards, given that doing so requires a natural center forward playing slightly out of position. Given United’s iffy results with a front two, and Losada’s preference to take the aggressive option, we’re predicting the 343 comes back and Paredes playing as a wingback rather than as a forward. That hinges on Perez being fit enough to play a starter’s minutes; if he can’t do it, Paredes would move up (with Mora in at left wingback), or perhaps we’ll see Skundrich return to the pressing forward role he had early in the season.
Projected Red Bulls starting 11: (5221) - Carlos Coronel; Kyle Duncan, Andres Reyes, Sean Nealis, Andrew Gutman, John Tolkin; Dru Yearwood, Sean Davis; Cristian Cásseres Jr., Wikelman Carmona; Patryk Klimala
Gerhard Struber has been cycling through formations recently, and this may well set up as a 3421, or he may include Fábio as a second forward in a 532/3412. There’s also a 4231 possibility available, though that seems less likely.
The rotation questions are all over the place, though. Can Duncan put in another long shift at right wingback? What about Yearwood, Davis, and Cásseres? Fábio could start alone up top instead of Klimala due to the clogged schedule, while players like Frankie Amaya, Caden Clark, and Daniel Royer could all end up rotating in.
Referee: Rubiel Vazquez
Available TV: TeleXitos. That’s it.
Feel free to check our our DCU how to watch guide to figure out what your best option is.
For listings in other countries, check out LiveSoccerTV.com.
What do we have to say about it?: The latest episode of Filibuster includes a breakdown of how the Red Bulls have rounded into their unfortunately good form this late in the season.
What are you drinking?: The forecast is looking like breezy and no more than 62 on Buzzard Point at kickoff, which means it’s officially warm drink season. Catch me in the press box with some hot green tea.
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