Having already beaten D.C. at Red Bull Arena, the Red Bulls head south after numerous bye weeks for the second installment of the Atlantic Cup. With D.C. United having played two games since that last encounter, lets look at what they've been up to.
First up: the defending champions, Los Angeles Galaxy. In a tightly contested affair, it was a Chris Pontius stoppage time goal that proved to be the difference. The resurgent forward headed home on a Nick DeLeon cross right at the death.
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Following that match, the Black and Red traveled to sunny Orlando, where they would snatch another 1-0 win right before the final whistle. This time, Luis Silva would be the hero, making his return and promptly curling a free kick past a helpless Donovan Ricketts to earn the three points.
This time around, D.C. figure to be an improved team from the one that lost in Harrison. The team seems to have settled into its identity again, a defensive style that looks for goals primarily on the counter. As all of their wins have been by 1-0 scorelines, Ben Olsen's side is in need of some more consistent firepower. Luis Silva's return should provide them a significant boost, if he can find the form that helped him net eleven goals last season.
Also helping D.C.'s return to form is Bill Hamid. The 2014 Goalkeeper of the Year didn't look convincing against the Red Bulls, particularly after being beaten at his near post by Lloyd Sam. Hamid, however, has rebounded in a major way and it's no coincidence that the team has rebounded with him. Third in the league with 17 saves, Hamid has looked unbeatable these past two games.
While D.C. was squeezing out late wins, the Red Bulls somewhat convincingly beat Columbus 2-1 on the road. With Bradley Wright-Phillips scoring off of a penalty kick, the Red Bulls took the lead. Minutes later, Tony Tchani would equalize thanks to a deflected free kick from Federico Higuain. Scoring the game winner and the historic 1000th goal in club history was substitute Mike Grella, whose neat chip from 20+ yards earned him numerous accolades.
Coming off of a bye week, the Red Bulls will have had more than enough time to prepare for the match. RBNY still have Roy Miller and Ronald Zubar listed as doubtful for the match. Neither player was involved in the match against Columbus.
While D.C.'s counterattacking style should pose problems for New York's possession based game, it's worth noting that D.C. is the only team that the Red Bulls have managed to shut out. Granted, it's still early in the season but the Red Bulls did a good job of breaking up any counterattacks before they could develop in their last match with D.C.
One of the story lines to look out for going into this weekend is the position of each team on the table. Currently, D.C. sits atop the Eastern Conference, with RBNY in second. If the Red Bulls win, they reclaim top spot. Should both teams maintain good form throughout the season while competing for first place in the East, this could add even more fuel to the Atlantic Cup rivalry.
Who To Watch
D.C.: Chris Pontius. The forward seems to have found his way again despite a frustrating start to the season. If he can return to his 2012 form, he could be a terror to New York's back line.
NY: Lloyd Sam and Bradley Wright-Phillips. I couldn't choose between the two, and so far, both of them have been lethal against D.C. United. BWP leads the team in both goals and assists and Sam is right there with him.
Last Time They Met
March 22, 2015. The Red Bulls comfortably disposed of a shorthanded D.C. United team at Red Bull Arena, thanks to goals from Bradley Wright-Phillips and Lloyd Sam.
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D.C. (4-4-2): Bill Hamid; Sean Franklin, Bobby Boswell, Kofi Opare, Taylor Kemp; Michael Farfan, Davy Arnaud, Perry Kitchen, Chris Rolfe; Jairo Arrieta, Chris Pontius
RBNY (4-2-3-1): Luis Robles; Chris Duvall, Matt Miazga, Damien Perinelle, Kemar Lawrence; Dax McCarty, Felipe Martins; Lloyd Sam, Sacha Kljestan, Sal Zizzo; Bradley Wright-Phillips
The match is on Saturday, April 11th at 7:00 PM (Eastern) and will be shown on MSG2.
Venue: RFK Stadium