A season sweep is at stake as the New York Red Bulls welcome longtime rival D.C. United to Red Bull Arena on Saturday evening.
New York enters Saturday's match with a 4-0 victory over DC at RFK Stadium on April 30 and on the heels of the offensive stampede that finished off lowly Toronto FC with a 5-0 win on Wednesday. Reigning MLS Player of the Week Joel Lindpere extended his goal-scoring streak to three games while all three Red Bulls forwards -- Thierry Henry, Luke Rodgers, and Juan Agudelo -- found the back of the net for the home side.
D.C. United is repeating a refrain familiar to Red Bulls fans as they seek their first victory since May 29 after conceding a 2-2 draw to the Philadelphia Union last Saturday. DC received leads before and after halftime with Josh Wolff's fourth goal of the season in the 44th minute and a beautiful strike by young playmaker Andy Najar in the 58th minute, but surrendered each respective boost with an own goal by DC defender Perry Kitchen and a late equalizer by Guatemalan forward Carlos Ruiz that drew Philly level before the final whistle.
That DC (4-5-7, 19 pts) draw helped the Union (7-4-6, 27 pts) stay within a point of the first-place Red Bulls (6-3-10, 28 pts) in the Eastern Conference.
Triple Threat? For a side that has struggled to finish off sides at home or away since April, the four goals scored by the forward trio of Henry, Rodgers, and Agudelo should come as a sigh of relief to Red Bulls supporters.
Wednesday's outburst represents the first time any part of that trio has accrued a goal since Henry scored against the Portland Timbers on June 19. While Henry did contribute as Red Bulls coach Hans Backe combated a depth chart depleted by injuries and the Gold Cup, one still needs to go back to May 28 to find a goal by either Agudelo or Rodgers -- with the latter scoring an equalizer at Vancouver.
Key Matchup: De Rosario vs. McCarty. With the trade that sent Backe's long-coveted number 10 to DC still fresh in the minds of Red Bulls supporters, Canadian midfielder Dwayne De Rosario will make his first visit to Red Bull Arena since being dealt for Dax McCarty on June 27.
Their styles contrast considerably -- De Rosario's attack-oriented while McCarty favors a holding midfield role -- but the swapped duo will need to go through one another to support their respective sides. To get behind the Red Bulls back line, De Rosario will need to beat McCarty's line of defense. To halt United's attack, McCarty will need to pick up the slack created by the absence of Teemu Tainio -- Tainio is serving an automatic one-game suspension due to his accumulated yellow card total -- and continue the clever distribution he displayed against Toronto FC while disrupting the DC passing lanes that now feed De Rosario.
These two midfielders will collide, with the better performance sure to be used as evidence of the greater beneficiary of the trade.
'Keeping Score. Just two days after Red Bulls GM Erik Solér publicly stated the club's interest in acquiring a new netminder via free agency, Red Bulls shot stopper Greg Sutton answered the call with his second clean sheet of the season. The Reds hardly challenged the Canadian 'keeper for most of Wednesday's match, but Sutton capably made five saves to add to the Red Bulls domination of TFC.
But what can he do for an encore? Sutton's shutout against a rebuilding Reds side will not silence doubters unless he or Bouna Coundoul can keep it going against DC -- if it isn't already too late. According to Jack Bell of the New York Times, the Red Bulls are already kicking the tires on longtime German goalkeeper Frank Rost for the stretch run.
Goal Giveaway. De Rosario will need to lead the charge for the visiting side, but his work will be for naught if his defense surrenders the gains of DC's offense. DC has allowed 1.81 goals per game this season, which is the worst rate in league play this season. That deficiency has created a -6 goal differential for United, which ranks 5th worst in MLS in 2011.
DC 'keeper Bill Hamid shares the blame for those poor totals with a non-descript back line that only features Kitchen, a rookie, among its bright spots. The suddenly-potent Red Bulls attack should find ample chances to direct shots on target against a DC back line that presently seeks a right back and other help on defense.
United We Strike. That said, DC United has scored at a rate of 1.44 goals per game this season, which is third best in MLS (the Red Bulls rank first with 1.79 goals per game). DC's attack is potent as the combination of team captain Wolff, reclamation project Charlie Davies, and DC mainstay Chris Pontius pack a scoring punch worth 17 of the club's 23 goals this season. With De Rosario providing service to that trio along with Najar off the bench, the Red Bulls defenders cannot rest on their result against Toronto FC if they hope to hold the back line intact against the visiting side.