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What we know and what we don't: D.C. United

In which we examine RBNY's second trip down I-95 this season in order to face their bitter rivals in our nations capital.

Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Red Bulls have just won two games in a row.  One win against the worst team in Major League Soccer and another against CD FAS, a Salvadorian powerhouse who pose a threat to absolutely nobody.  Not exactly what we'd call a winning streak, but in this up and down season, we'll take what we can get.   This Sunday, our boys in white look to continue the success down in Washington where they'll take on their oldest and fiercest rivals, DC United.   Currently holding down the #1 spot in the Eastern Conference and just two points shy of the leading Supporter's Shield position, DCU has been having a dynamite season.  Getting three points in Washington won't be easy, but may be necessary.

Here's what we know:

  • EJ is back (literally) and Espindola is back (figuratively).
It could be asserted that the Red Bulls' most glaring and annoying weakness is their defense.  New York's back four has been a revolving cast of characters with little continuity and even less experience.   Besides Jamison Olave, we've seen four different center backs, three different right backs and two left backs.   Thankfully, Roy Miller is here to lock down his usual spot on the left, but he and Olave are all we've got by way of MLS experience.   A rookie in Chris Duvall on the right side and who knows who next to Olave in the middle makes for a very nervous Luis Robles.   This isn't much of an issue when New York is playing terrible teams like Montreal and CD Fas, but going up against DCU's attack could present a problem.   Eddie Johnson, fresh off a two game suspension for acting the fool, is back in the action.  While he has had a mostly irrelevant season, the criticism surrounding him may have just hit a tipping point that will push him into playing up to the talent everyone knows he's capable of.   Playing up top, next to EJ is former Red Bull, Fabian Espindola.   The surely, Argentine striker didn't make much of an impact during his time in New York but seems to have had a career rebirth since joining United.    The two forwards could certainly cause problems for a proven shakey, New York defense.

  • Dax is playing like his old self again.
When Dax McCarty is playing poorly, the entire team is playing poorly.  Similarly, when Dax is on his game, everyone else on the pitch reaps the benefits.   McCarty will be the first to admit that he's been having an off season.  Giving away the ball, making badly thought out passes and just looking all around confused on where to be, it's been a rough year.  Some thought it was due to nagging injuries and some thought it was due to being played pretty much ninety minutes through every game of 2013.   Whatever the reason, the problem seems to have corrected itself.  In the last four matches, McCarty has been playing like a ginger possessed.   His resurgence couldn't have come at a better time, either.  With the defense as porous as it's been, having McCarty everywhere at once in front of the back four goes a long way in easing the attacking pressure that teams like DC can exert.   Hopefully we can expect more of this, as well.

  • BWP is going to have a tough go of it.
Unless you've been living under a mound of dirt, chances are you've heard a thing or two about Bradley Wright-Phillip's insane scoring season.   The English poacher has already passed the New York Red Bulls single season scoring record and, with ten games left to play, has a good chance of breaking the league scoring record as well.   In his last match, Wright-Phillips netted a brace, but that was against a miserable Montreal Impact defense.   This Sunday is going to be a whole different story.   DC's defense has been excellent this year.  The addition of Bobby Boswell was just the spark they needed to shore up one of the worst back lines of 2013.   On top of that, DCU goal keeper Bill Hamid has been playing lights out.   Gone are days when Hamid would foolishly rush off his line or bobble easy saves.   Mr. "Can't hold us back" seems to have matured into one of the most dependable keepers in all of MLS.    Thierry Henry and BWP are going to have to make sure their magical partnership is firing at top form if they want to make their mark against DC's defense.

Here's what we don't know:

  • Can the Red Bulls win this game?
To put it lightly, the New York Red Bulls have not looked convincing when playing against top teams.   Sure, we can say they play up or down to their opponent, but is that really good enough?   At a moment in the season when New York needs every point they can get their hands on, they need to be playing better than just "to the level."  They need to beat teams, both at home and on the road, in a convincing fashion.   The Red Bulls need to send a message that they can compete and play better than anyone else in the league, not to just every other club in MLS, but to themselves.   Right now, there's no telling where this team's confidence is at.  Yes, winning two games in a row is nice, but they're well aware of who those wins have come against.   Can they go into RFK Stadium and take away three points playing like they did last week against Montreal?   Not likely.   If the Red Bulls want a chance of winning this game, they need to play to their absolute best.  Beating a rival at home is a good way to get this team and this fan base believing in something bigger.