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Red Bulls Matchday Preview: DC United

Just two weeks after a beatdown in the cup, what should the Red Bulls expect from DC in the league and at home?

SOCCER: OCT 27 MLS - New York Red Bulls at DC United Photo by Tony Quinn/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Do you know how many world flags have the red-white-blue color scheme? Of course you do. Twenty-nine. Twenty-nine! Meaning that when vowel enthusiasts Lynyrd Skynyrd sung their famous song they very well could have been singing about Luxembourg. Johnny Van Zant should have specified, now the world will never know. At least we’ll know DC United’s tactical setup and one man’s opinions about their uniforms.

TACTICS BOARD

The Red Bulls play their last match before the international break against a familiar foe in DC United. The historic rivals have already faced off in Open Cup play in 2022, a 3-0 win for New York against a largely second-string DC team. The first-string DC team has not fared much better, currently 4-2-6 in MLS and 11th in the Eastern Conference. Despite being one of MLS’s most historic teams, times have been rough for the capital-based club with playoff qualification falling their way 6 times in the last 14 years, never making it past the Conference Semifinal and acquiring 3 Wooden Spoons in that time period. Overachievement has not been in DC United’s history for a long time, and the mediocrity has continued into 2022 as interim coach Chad Ashton has struggled to make DC into anything special.

The Atlantic Cup rivals can accurately divide their 2022 season into two eras: Before Taxi and After Taxi. The arrival of Greek playmaker Taxiarchis Fountas has notably improved DC’s season, with the club going 2-0-4 in Before Taxi time and 2-2-2 in After Taxi time. Goals Scored, Expected Goals, you could pick the attacking metric of your preference and it’s more likely than not it’s gone up since Fountas arrived from Austrian club Rapid Wien. He’s brought new life to an organization that has floundered so long, and while results are far from consistent, DC United fans have more reason to hope for a better future. Steady improvement can be seen tangibly, attacks seem to flow better with MLS’s Greek Freak on the pitch, his classy finishing and fantastic off-the-ball movement has been the missing link to an attack that misfired so frequently in the early stages of the year.

Chad Ashton has set the team up in an expansive 3-4-3, a system designed for attacking with flair and style. Focused on stretching the field and playing from side to side, DC want to be everywhere all at once when in possession. The club has above average numbers in “switch” passes per game (17.4) and crosses per game (13.3). It’s a very direct style of play, the third-least amount of dribbles with the ball leaguewide shows a side instructed to touch and pass, letting the ball do the work and covering distance. There are very few touches on the ball, players are encouraged to release it quickly to go as fast as possible. These tendencies, coupled with a low average possession of 46.3%, make for a side skilled in transition but one that struggles against lower blocks. Sound familiar?

The transition system is an effective and valuable resource when it works, but modern coaches that study their opponents well in advance know that the most harmful thing that can be done to DC is to give them the ball. In their 12 MLS games DC have averaged 44.25% possession in their wins, 46.5% possession in their draws, and 47.83% possession in their losses. The pattern is clear, however with the Red Bulls suffering from many of the same weaknesses it’ll be a mental battle as well as a physical one, as both teams try to impose their mirror systems on the other. The Red Bulls, currently winless in their last 4 MLS games, will be motivated to dominate against a historic rival. DC United are winless in their last 3 MLS games, and will also be motivated to dominate against a historic rival. It should be fun.

KIT CONTEMPLATIONS

What do you get when you get the creative liberty bestowed by away jerseys, one of the United State’s most historic clubs, and the vibrant culture of one of the country’s most historic cities?

A white shirt.

1/10, a point awarded out of respect for the club employee who put more effort writing out the paragraphs of explanations about the kits hidden meanings and symbolism than into the actual kit.

PREDICTED LINEUPS

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Ola Kamara

It doesn’t get much simpler than this, Ola Kamara has been a weapon in MLS ever since he joined the league in 2016, scoring 79 goals for some of the league’s finest in the Columbus Crew, LA Galaxy, and his current DC United. The experienced Norwegian has lead the DC attack for three years, and is always the man to be stopped whenever clubs travel to the nation’s capital. A specialist in off the ball movement and ruthless finishing, Kamara has never been one to get on the ball much. He’s consistently ranked in the lower tiers of MLS strikers in touches per game in his DC career, rather than aiding in the development of his sides attacks he prefers to play as the archetypical striker of yesteryear, the focal point and final cherry on top of every offensive move. In 2021, Kamara was DC’s top scorer with 19 goals, 13 goals ahead of his closest competitor in Paul Arriola. The now-32-year-old has a simple task for Ashton’s side, to get the ball in the back of the net when it comes near him. The Red Bulls will have to make sure it gets nowhere near him, and if they do then they’ll have much less to worry about on Saturday evening.

Patryk Klimala

Oh, he’s good now? Good to know.

Back in fans’ good graces after his goal and assist against Charlotte FC in the Open Cup, Patryk Klimala is once again one to watch in the Red Bulls lineup. The Red Bulls’ striker woes have come up periodically during the 2022 season, and the roundabout has turned back to Klimala as the organization seeks someone to really lock down the role of being the XI’s main man up top. With Ashley Fletcher out injured, Tom Barlow being lovingly inconsistent, and Zach Ryan being limited to cameos, Klimala’s only competition is himself. Flaky finishing has plagued him in his Red Bulls career, but with a lengthy run seemingly incoming it’s the perfect opportunity for the Pole to go on a run and gain some much-needed confidence.

PREDICTION

DC United always produce feisty encounters against the Red Bulls no matter what form they’re in, and with Taxi Fountas on a rampage, and the Red Bulls winless at home and winless in 4, a 1-1 draw seems to be in sight as the team looks to reset during the international break.