There once was a Bull that was Red
And from it results at home fled
But an Open Cup came
DC came in its lane
“Please play sexy” said Struber’s bald head
The Open Cup is back! Rejoice, bring the champagne, renew your streaming subscriptions. For the first time since 2018 the Red Bulls find themselves in the second round of the historic tournament, and find themselves a familiar MLS opponent in DC. United. The capital club are technically still among New York’s chief rivals, contesting the Atlantic Cup, and despite there now being a lack of real geographical proximity between the two clubs, meetings are often still ridden with intensity and fierceness. Even as the teams’ form and fortunes have diverged, games are always entertaining.
The 2022 MLS season has been a rollercoaster for DC United, currently sitting 10th in the Eastern Conference. They won their first two games, went on a four-game losing streak, welcomed Greek attacker Taxi Fountas to the side, and won two of its next three. But despite MLS struggles, the Open Cup has already proven to be fruitful for the black and red. The 3-0 win over Flower City Union in the third round broke the team’s month-long losing streak and since then things have looked better.
The win over Flower City didn’t come without cost however. Despite the positive result, head coach Hernán Losada was fired the following day in what appeared to be the culmination of many conflicts in the locker room and front office. Interim head coach Chad Ashton has stepped in valiantly on short notice, though considering he’s been a DC United assistant since 2007 it wasn’t as though he was unfamiliar with the system.
The club aligns itself with the hip new pressing trend that the Red Bulls practice with zealous fervor, on the upper end of the pressures per game statistics league wide, they prefer to spend most of their time without the ball and play quickly in transition when they recover it. Three out of their four MLS wins have come with a loss in the possession battle, only retaining the ball for 33% of the game in their 3-2 win against the New England Revolution. Like the Red Bulls their system performs best without the ball, however the fourth worst goalscoring record in the East shows some flaws in the execution. Their successful pressure percentage is only 29.8%, a mediocre rate when compared to the 31.5% success rate of the 2022 Red Bulls and the 33.1% of the 2021 Red Bulls. Something’s not coming off, and it translates to the attack more tangibly when one looks at the 5th worst shot total in the league, and the 3rd worst shots on target total.
However something special has come in the form of the aforementioned Taxi Fountas, with the Greek attacker arriving from Austria to immediately impact the club with 4 goals in as many games. New signings can often have that impact, bringing a psychological feeling of renewal along with extraordinary sporting talent. DC United will hope that Fountas continues his good form against the defensively sound Red Bulls. DC and the Red Bulls seem to be mirror images at this point. Both high pressing sides have implemented their system but have failed to make it click offensively, and while both show promising records they’ll be looking to make a statement in the Cup. It’ll be up to Struber and his men to show that their offense is less bad than DC’s, and perhaps even get away with claiming it’s good.
Expect United to come out in their all black home with red trim home kit on Tuesday night. The “Black-and-Red kit” ditched the team’s vertical black bars and instead focuses on simplicity, keeping one solid color. The only departure from this trend (besides a handful of mandated white stripes) can be found on the collar and sleeves where red outlines the edges sharply. D.C. describes the kit as “streetwear meets self expression” but… it’s just a black shirt.
For the first time in eight years, United isn’t sporting a military IT company across their chest. The team signed a 3-year deal earlier this year for crypto asset network XDC Network to take center stage. So if New York scores a goal, gone are the days of worrying about an unmanned drone retaliating. Now we can all just worry about being approached by every D.C. crypto bro trying to sell off a limited edition Pablo Maurer NFT.
3/10, Crypto is a scam and so is D.C. United.
The Rotation Bull
Omir Fernandez has been freed from the shackles of inexplicable omissions from the starting XI in 2022, but it seems Dru Yearwood has taken up his burden as the bench’s Atlas. Having started the team’s first 6 MLS matches, he was promptly relieved of his duties upon the return of Cristian Casseres to full health, and has averaged 21 minutes per game since. Yearwood’s form did not seem to be an issue, he had formed a formidable partnership with Frankie Amaya. He’s been healthy enough to come off the bench, so it seems that Struber simply prefers Casseres. The Venezuelan is suspended for the Open Cup clash after a late red card against Hartford Athletic, leaving the second defensive midfield spot up for grabs. Interestingly enough, Casseres has not been at his best levels since returning to his more natural defensive midfield role, so a commanding performance in the cup could lead to the Englishman being reinstated as Amaya’s partner in crime and possession.
I could honestly copy and paste the paragraph from the last Open Cup game here. I could say it was ironic, that it was a satire of the repeated questions surrounding Edelman’s omissions. I could pass it off as humorous, as jest. Some people on Twitter would laugh. Most people wouldn’t notice. Life would go on.
The teenage defensive midfielder has been shackled to the bench as well, although the reasoning surrounding it is much clearer than other omissions. The RBII prodigy has enjoyed a rapid rise through the academy and into the first team, however like many professionals do he’s had to bide his time for his full entry into the first team. Struber likes him enough to keep him with the first team, occasionally sending him to USL to stay sharp, but has been reluctant to test him at the MLS level as of yet. Struber is not a fan of rotating for the cup, and will be even more reluctant to do so in a high-stakes game against an MLS opponent, but the suspension of Cristian Casseres means that Edelman is more likely than ever to see significant minutes against DC. United. The high demands of the defensive midfield position make it a challenge for even the most physically fit athletes to play 90 minutes game after game, and for a midweek fixture at least one of the two starting double pivots will exit early. Even if Edelman doesn’t start, a halftime change for either Amaya or Yearwood would see the Homegrown as the first man off the bench. He’ll relish the opportunity to show the coaching staff that he deserves more of a look, and resume his Tyler Adams-esque rise to the top.
DC’s Decisive Disciples
The other Greek Freak has started to hit his stride since joining Major League Soccer. United’s newest designated player only became part of the regular rotation in Mid-April. But since then, he’s become a standard target and dangerous threat for every team he’s faced. Fountas had his second match with two goals in three games over the weeked in United’s 2-0 win over Houston Dynamo FC.
Fountas has connections to the Red Bull system. He spent four seasons with the Austrian FC Red Bull Salzburg (2013-2016) but spent a majority of his time on loan. His only cap was in the Second Round of 2013–14 Austrian Cup against 3rd Division FC Lankowitz where he nearly played a role in a historic upset. As a second half substitute, he earned two yellows and forced the other Bulls to play a man down for most of extra time with the score tied 1-1. They needed to win via shootout, 6-5, and it was the only game in that tournament (minus the final) that eventual champion Salzburg didn’t win by six or more goals.
Interestingly, he did make seven appearances with Salzburg’s reserve team, FC Liefering, in late 2013. The same team Gerhard Struber would go on to coach in 2017. The world, and Austria’s soccer scene, is small.
The German has been a standout for DC United in his surprisingly brief tenure there, having joined in 2020 and made himself a star in the struggling side. The former Rookie of the Year has been the main man in a side that can name Wayne Rooney among its alumni, his pinpoint accuracy with his preferred right foot always looming as a threat. His passing is a famous strongpoint of his, despite playing as a right midfielder he ranks among the best in progressive passes and shot-creating actions, many of DC’s goals are created by his fearsome crossing ability. His vision is excellent, able to see open runners and find them with ease through his almost trademark curling balls behind the backline. While not a prolific scorer he’ll be the man the Red Bulls want to limit on Tuesday night, as stifling his creativity can come a long way in silencing the already tame DC attack.
Gregory: Good form doesn’t lie, and the road Bulls should be fine as Taxi Fountas’ heroics are not enough to prevent a 1-0 New York win at Audi Field.
Michael: D.C. and New York have both found a stride since the last round of the USOC. RBNY is unbeaten on the road in 2022 and DCU have won their last two at home. Give me a 1-1 draw with RBNY winning in penalty kicks.