The New York Red Bulls don't need much encouragement to get up for D.C. United. This time around, fans and players alike will have noticed that this weekend's match is a particularly pleasing opportunity to keep the old rival down below the red line on the Eastern Conference standings for another week. And, of course, a home win would keep RBNY challenging for top of the East.
But the Red Bulls have spent the week counting the cost of the win in Vancouver. Both Mike Grella and Alex Muyl will be suspended for DC's visit, forcing Jesse Marsch's hand with regard to making changes to what was becoming a settled lineup.
There are three obvious contenders for the two open spots in the starting XI, and Marsch has been considering the claims of Omer Damari, Daniel Royer, and Gonzalo Veron accordingly.
"Between Damari, Royer and Veron: this week has been about how tactically and understanding their roles are; they are pretty clear on what they need do and it's a pretty good opportunity on how to contribute in a big way," said Marsch, "It will be a big game. It's going to be about tactics and understanding how it's going to fit the team - and a big challenge against DC and how to face them."
With regard to how to face DC, RBNY must take into account the return of a certain Englishman to Red Bull Arena. Lloyd Sam is coming back to Harrison for the first time since he was traded to DCU. It was an emotional parting for the player, and fans were denied the opportunity to say goodbye.
Marsch is sure Sam will be well received by the supporters who cheered for him through some of RBNY's most successful seasons. And he is equally sure of the importance of seeing that the traveling DCU support doesn't get the chance to sing his name at RBA.
"I think they will love seeing him, they will show him appreciation [for his contributions] throughout the years. When we saw him down there, it was great seeing him down there and there will be talk about when comes back here. He will be excited when he gets back here and he has been very successful when he played here, but the key is to shut him down."
Big rivalry match notwithstanding, Marsch did have time to relate his thoughts on NYRB II's title-winning coach John Wolyniec. The USL team brought a trophy back to RBA this week, and the first team head coach has of course talked to his reserve team counterpart about the achievement.
"I said congratulations, talked about the game a little bit. He made us proud and he's done a really good job this year of balancing so many things - and talk about a different guy. He's had to make so many changes and adjustment to make that team successful and he deserves to win Coach of the Year. The players also deserve the credit on the difficulties of their travel schedule as well."
Now it is up to RBNY to emulate NYRB II. The reserves have set the example for the season so far, but the first team still has the chance to make the best memories of 2016 about MLS, not USL. The next step toward that is a win over the club's oldest rival.