The New York Red Bulls are once again making ready to face their oldest (and original) MLS rival. While there are newer, fresher faces on the RBNY rivals list, the team doesn't need a lot of motivation to be focused on its latest trip to RFK Stadium. Head coach Jesse Marsch remembers the last visit to our nation's capital clearly:
"We can all agree that was the lowest point of the season and because of that, it won't take any reminders," said Marsch, "We all understand that we let ourselves down in a big way and very disappointed on how we performed in that game."
The coach is clear: he wants no repetition of the showing that saw RBNY slapped aside, 2-0, by DCU on May 13: "We already know that when we get down, we are in for a blood bath, and in our own way [we have] to be us and put the game on our own terms. We didn't do that last time, we have to do it this time."
Both sides have shuffled their rosters a little since May. DC has raided rosters all over MLS, picking up Kennedy Igboananike from the Chicago Fire and Patrick Mullins from NYCFC. And, of course, RBNY sent Lloyd Sam to DCU as part of the retooling that has seen Omer Damari and Daniel Royer land at Red Bull Arena. This will be the first time the club will face Sam since he was traded on July 7th.
"Listen, I've enjoyed watching Lloyd over there. It's been very hard watching him play with another team. But I've been a fan of his and I wish him great success and he's fit into their team really well. I know he will be up for the game and he will be a dangerous threat to manage him and to control him. We can't let him take advantage and punish us. But it will be good to see him and it will be a challenge for us," said Marsch.
There is more to DCU than Sam, of course. And RBNY must also play against its own lackluster road record.
"It sets up to be a tough game and we know it's going to be emotional and they have dangerous players. We know they will be combative and they lead the league in fouls. They are a tough and physical team and it's going to be a big challenge and also to deal with them in attacking moments especially in transition, so we are excited and we know that we are looking to avenge our poor performance in a good way and get over the hump on the road."
In addition to its own new additions to the roster, RBNY heads to DCU with Gonzalo Veron playing as close to the level expected of a Designated Player as he has ever done in a Red Bull shirt. Marsch sees Veron adding fresh flexibility to the Red Bulls' tactics:
"I think he can do all the roles. He's done well in his last game, we used him up high in the two, out wide in the three and out wide in a two, so he has the capabilities to be effective in different spots in the field. He's become more clear of what the tactics are and what the demands are and that means he's fit very well into the team and he's been great in training."
There is another Red Bulls team tracking RBNY's preparations for D.C. United. The New Jersey Special Olympics Red Bull side will be playing against the DCU Special Olympics team after the MLS match is over.
The team trained with the Red Bulls and got into the huddle before they started to warm up, getting advice from Jesse Marsch as they began to train for their match.
"We've had a great relationship with the Special Olympics since I've been here," said Marsch, "We've have the Unified team here and they will face DC United and next week against New England, so we have two big clasico's this weekend."
The Red Bulls want to put the memory of May's capitulation behind them; DCU wants to take further advantage of RBNY's struggles on the road. And both teams hope RFK does not fall down during the game. A tense match ahead for the old rivals.