When D.C. United meets the New York Red Bulls, drama is usually involved. However, the last time these two teams met the game was more or less a straightforward win for the Metros. United will surely want to set the record straight at RFK today, a venue in which they've won six straight games in all competitions and are unbeaten in twelve. On top of all that, it also happens to be a match between the Eastern Conference's top two sides at the moment. The glamour clubs out west may be getting the national TV spots, but make no mistake: This is the biggest game in MLS this week.
Key Player: Perry Kitchen
We haven't seen the best out of Kitchen in 2015 yet, but this is the perfect occasion for him to deliver a standout performance. With the two formations in question, Kitchen - along with Davy Arnaud - must cover a ton of ground, but United's central duo also needs to outsmart NYRB's triumvirate. Kitchen also needs to bring his physical gifts to the fore, as he's got an advantage athletically over both Felipe and Dax McCarty. We also need to see Kitchen moving the ball more quickly than he has been recently, and we need to see him switch the point of the attack when given the chance (something he was adding to his game in 2014, but that seems to have stalled this year).
It's going to take a team effort to deal with the Red Bulls from a tactical perspective, but no individual is more important to that end than PK23.
Key Question: Can United do something more than hang on and be opportunistic against skillful, attacking opposition?
United has had a rough time against every attack-minded team they've faced in 2015. It's been a mix of factors against teams that approach the game in various ways, but the one major factor is that United has not had much say in how the game was going to be played. Alajuelense wanted to sprint up the wings, so that's the game we saw. New York wanted to press and emphasize the moving parts in their central midfield, and United couldn't do much about it. Orlando wanted to possess the ball in the attacking third and break down a massed defense, and it required the best goalkeeping performance in MLS thus far in 2015 to shut them out.
If the Black-and-Red are really going to contend for hardware - and after last season, that should be the expectation - then dictating the terms on a regular basis is going to be important. Defending deep and hoping for a bit of wizardry to provide goals might pan out once in a while, but eventually United needs to start being better with the ball and better at anticipating than their opponent. Doing so against this NYRB side would be a big step forward for a team whose record is obscuring some flaws.
Match date/time: Saturday April 11th, 7:00pm EST
Venue: Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium (Washington, DC)
TV: CSN Washington (English), MSG Plus (English), MLS Direct Kick (English)
Online: MLS Live (English)