Any time D.C. United meets the New York Red Bulls, it’s a big deal. In classic rivalry fashion, the games tend to be tight and hotly contested no matter what the standings say. The Atlantic Cup, no matter how much other east coast teams try to insert themselves, still matters.
Here’s the thing, though: United is still - yes, still! - mathematically alive for a playoff spot. They have to win tonight, and in all three of their remaining games, and have the Red Bulls pick up no more than one point all year, and have no other team get above 43 points, and possibly survive a web of tiebreakers...but they’re still alive.
Tonight, it’s simple both from the perspective of the playoff berth and from the perspective of just hating the Red Bulls. United needs to win, of course, but they should also desperately want to win. Compounding a miserable week for NYRB (they lost in the US Open Cup final, because it is a final and they lose finals) and prolonging a six-game MLS winless streak? That’s the good stuff.
Key player: Patrick Mullins
We want an encore! Or, barring two straight four-goal performances, let’s just hope for the weekend’s goal-scoring outburst to mean a return of the confident, consistently dangerous 2016 version of Mullins. United has been dying for good striker play all season, and when they finally got it they just so happened to dismantle a team currently sitting in a playoff spot. That’s the hope for tonight.
It’s also pretty much established that Red Bull Arena has become a hard place to play during Jesse Marsch’s tenure. Even in what is a down year for the Metros, they’ve held visiting teams to 1 or 0 goals in 12 of 14 home games. At the other end, they’ve scored 2+ goals in half of their games in New Jersey (which, it turns out, is not in New York City).
With United’s tendency to get blanked on the road, which has happened eight times this year, turning what chances the Black-and-Red create into goals is vital. Since a very special goal that we should all remember, United has gone to Harrison nine times, and they’ve been held scoreless on seven occasions. Last year’s 2-2 draw, which saw United score twice after the 88th minute, makes up two-thirds of D.C.’s goals in north Jersey since the start of 2013. It’s high time that changed, and a reborn Mullins is the man for the job.
Location: Red Bull Arena (Harrison, NJ)
Kickoff time: 7:30pm Eastern
Projected D.C. United starting 11: (4231) - Bill Hamid; Nick DeLeon, Steve Birnbaum, Kofi Opare, Chris Korb; Russell Canouse, Marcelo Sarvas; Paul Arriola, Luciano Acosta, Zoltan Stieber; Patrick Mullins
Bench: Steve Clark, Jalen Robinson, Chris Odoi-Atsem, Ian Harkes, Lloyd Sam, Deshorn Brown, Bruno Miranda
After Saturday’s performance (possibly the best of the entire season), the only change I think we’ll see is a return for Hamid. This game is on short rest, but United has had three days to recover. Saturday in Columbus will see the more significant rotation.
That said, expect Sam to sub into this one, and possibly a bit earlier than normal. This may also be the game we see Brown play at least a few minutes on the wing, though Miranda is also a possibility there. Of course, if United is winning, look for Odoi-Atsem to come in at right back, with DeLeon pushing up into the midfield.
Projected Red Bulls starting 11: (3331) - Luis Robles; Michael Amir Murillo, Aaron Long, Fidel Escobar; Alex Muyl, Felipe, Kemar Lawrence; Sean Davis, Sacha Kljestan, Tyler Adams; Bradley Wright-Phillips
BWP was reported as suspended by TV broadcasts on the weekend after picking up a yellow card, but that turned out to be false. He’ll be suspended if he picks one up in this one, but that won’t help United tonight. There’s a possibility of Jesse Marsch boosting his team’s attacking ability by playing Lawrence as a left-center back, moving Muyl over to the left wingback spot, and bringing in Sal Zizzo on the right, which would require dropping Murillo or Escobar.
Off the bench, Gonzalo Veron has started to become more of an impact sub, but the look we’ll likely see is unorthodox. Expect him to replace either Davis or Adams, with Wright-Phillips moving into the midfield. No, I’m not making that up. Another attacking option Marsch has back is Daniel Royer, who has been out for a while but has been declared ready to play tonight. Royer has 10 goals this season and boosts an attack that hasn’t been very good of late.
Referee: Chris Penso
Available TV: NewsChannel 8 and regional affiliates (check the link for the over-the-air alternate channel in your area), including CW Richmond in RVA.
Available streaming: MLS Live for those outside the blackout radius
For listings in other countries, check out LiveSoccerTV.com.
What do we have to say about it?: Filibuster spent a good amount of time on this game, and we’re looking to discuss the NYRB lineup in further detail later today.
What are you drinking?: I’m heading to the beach tomorrow, so I’m finishing off the last couple of beers in my fridge tonight. Spaten Oktoberfest, one for each half.
This is the place for all your pre-game, in-game, and post-game discussion. Vamos keeping this season alive!