At crossroads United and Red Bulls meet

At crossroads United and Red Bulls meet
April 12, 2013, 10:00 am
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D.C. United is looking to improve on offense

D.C. United against the New York Red Bulls is an intense rivalry rich in history and tradition, but features two teams very much concerned with their present situations. United and the Red Bulls meet Saturday night at R.F.K. Stadium and carry into the game similar resumes.

Five games into 2013 season United has only four points from a win and a draw. The Red Bulls have played six games and have grabbed five points from a win and two draws. Both teams are in the bottom half of the Eastern Conference standings and feature offenses that have struggled to find any rhythm, flow, and of most concern goals.

United’s woes, especially on offense, can be partially explained by injuries. So far United has only scored two goals this season and the team’s creative force Dwayne De Rosario has been limited to only two games. De Rosario missed the first two games of the season from a pre-season suspension and then missed last week’s 1-0 loss to Sporting Kansas City with an adductor strain.

“If you battle and win second balls in this league, you’re ultimately going to have more possession,” head coach Ben Olsen said after the loss to Sporting. “We’re not good enough to start from (goalkeeper) Bill (Hamid) and build out of the back and play like the best team in the world. We’ve got to earn the right to play, and today we did that. It’s not easy to come in here and play well, but this was our best effort to date. Unfortunately we didn’t get anything out of it.

De Rosario is off the injured list and his return is vital with United missing other offensive options. Midfielders Nick De Leon, John Thorington and Lewis Neal are all sidelined by injuries. The introduction of Brazilian designated player Rafael has been a plus. He scored in his season debut against Columbus and started last week in Kansas City.

Rafael has to be considered an option to start again this week even with the return of De Rosario.   Olsen made it clear he still believes in striker Lionard Pajoy, but conceded that Pajoy needs to do a better job of finishing.  Based on his strong work rate Pajoy should have more than just the one goal he scored against Real Salt Lake.

United is hopeful that Chris Pontius will open his goal scoring account for 2013. With 12 goals last season Pontius had a breakout year and was a big reason why United broke its five-year playoff drought. Last April Pontius scored 3 goals in a 4-1 win over the Red Bulls to jump start his season.

Like United, the Red Bulls strike rate is a concern. The Red Bulls have only netted seven goals and Jamison Olave is tied for the team leading in scoring with two goals. It’s nice that Olave has scored two goals, including a wonderful finish in last week’s 3-1 loss to Chicago, but the goal of a central defender is not to lead the team in scoring.

The Red Bulls are encouraged that Fabian Espindola, signed in the off-season from Real Salt Lake, is available for Saturday’s game. Espindola has been out since March 23 with a hamstring injury. In the season-opening 3-3 tie in Portland Espindola made an impression with his new team by scoring two goals.

The draw against Portland was the only multi-goal game this season for the Red Bulls. It is puzzling when considering that beyond Espindola the Red Bulls feature Thierry Henry, Pegguy Luyindola and Tim Cahill has quality attacking options.  Of the three only Henry has scored and the Red Bulls have been shut out twice.

One of the Red Bulls scoreless games was the 0-0 draw with United in March. The potential full force of the Red Bulls attack was on display as they outshot United 24-5. It was goalkeeper Bill Hamid who preserved the point for United with seven saves.

Fittingly the United and Red Bulls are set to play in a match of importance. It is not as a significant as the Eastern Conference semifinals matchup from last season and it goes beyond the Atlantic Cup trophy the teams play for. This match is about two teams fighting to gain control of their seasons to provide a launching pad for the future.

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