After the Red Bulls sat out during the second week of MLS action, they return against their most bitter rival in the first Atlantic Cup match of the season. D.C. United are also coming off of a bye week, after winning 1-0 against the Montreal Impact.
For D.C., this will be their first away match of the season. They'll be looking to avenge their playoff elimination at the hands of RBNY, but will have to do so without several key players in Eddie Johnson and Fabian Espindola, who is currently serving a six-game suspension. Luis Silva, who scored 11 goals in 25 appearances, will also be missing due to injury. This puts a lot of pressure on their current forwards, Chris Pontius and Jose Arrieta, who have to make up for the missing firepower.
Ben Olsen, however, has plenty of options on hand and will most likely deploy the same starting XI that saw success against Montreal. Employing a 4-4-2 in that match, Olsen's side only had one new face, which was Arrieta. In goal, Bill Hamid is coming in hot, after winning the Goalkeeper of the Year award. He's already started off strong, posting a shutout in his first match. The defense is made up entirely of returning players, including Sean Franklin, Bobby Boswell, Steve Birnbaum, and Chris Korb.
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The midfield also consists of returning players. Nick DeLeon, Chris Rolfe, Davy Arnaud, and Perry Kitchen all played a major part in leading D.C. to a first place finish in the Eastern Conference last season. Up top, Olsen started Chris Pontius and newcomer Arrieta, who is already fitting in after netting the lone goal against Montreal.
The chemistry in this side is practically tangible, whereas the Red Bulls are still working out the kinks. Further complicating matters are the injuries of starters Roy Miller and Ronald Zubar, meaning that Jesse Marsch is going to have to shuffle his defensive lineup after only one match. New signing Kemar "Taxi" Lawrence is set to start at left back, while the likely candidate to replace Zubar should he miss out is Andrew Jean-Baptiste.
The midfield will most likely remain the same, although the combination of Mike Grella, Sacha Kljestan, Lloyd Sam, Dax McCarty, and Felipe Martins still have a few things to work on. One of the biggest issues was the lack of service to Bradley Wright-Phillips. It was barely played to his feet, but he was also heavily marked and limited by SKC's defense.
One absence that could cause problems is Peguy Luyindula's. One of the heroes in the Eastern Conference Semifinals fixtures against D.C., Luyindula netted two goals in two games against the Black and Red. Clearly someone who enjoyed success against D.C's back line, the Frenchman's retirement deprives the Red Bulls of one of their best attackers.
Who to Watch
D.C.: Chris Rolfe. His creativity and vision proved to be lethal against Montreal, and could do so again against a Red Bulls defense that has several question marks going into Sunday's game.
RBNY: Mike Grella. He didn't receive the warmest of reactions to his debut, but the Glen Cove native held his own. He needs to be more decisive on the ball if he is to assert himself as a quality MLS midfielder.
Last Time They Met
Eastern Conference Semifinals. Even though D.C. would go on to win the second leg 2-1, Peguy Luyindula's goal was enough to break D.C. hearts and knock them out of the playoffs.
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32-8-20, D.C. United. D.C. have been the dominant side in this I-95 rivalry, outscoring New York 118 goals to 87 in regular season matches.
D.C. United (4-4-2): Bill Hamid; Chris Korb, Steve Birnbaum, Bobby Boswell, Sean Franklin; Chris Rolfe, Perry Kitchen, Davy Arnaud, Nick DeLeon; Chris Pontius, Jose Arrieta
New York Red Bulls (4-2-3-1): Luis Robles; Kemar Lawrence, Ronald Zubar, Damien Perinelle, Chris Duvall; Felipe Martins, Dax McCarty; Mike Grella, Sacha Kljestan, Lloyd Sam; Bradley Wright-Phillips
The match is on Sunday, March 22nd at 5:00 PM (Eastern) and will be shown on ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes.
Venue: Red Bull Arena