One of the reasons D.C. United have found themselves enjoying increased success in 2012 is the team’s uncanny ability to avoid losing streaks. Just twice this season has the club dropped two games in a row, and it has avoided a three-match skid altogether.
“We’ve been doing well when it comes to bouncing back after a loss,” center back Brandon McDonald said. “We’ve just got to put together some streaks again.”
Tonight at RFK Stadium (8 p.m., Galavision), United (12-9-4) will host the rival New York Red Bulls (13-7-6). Playing four days after dropping a 3-0 contest at the Montreal Impact, D.C. will once again look to rebound in the standings. Playing at RFK Stadium, where they haven’t lost since March, will help.
In today’s paper, I take a look at the importance of this Atlantic Cup match to the Eastern Conference playoff picture and the challenge the star-studded Red Bulls will certainly bring.
The Red Bulls’ attack is, put simply, stacked. After missing New York’s 1-1 draw with Sporting Kansas City last weekend because of the birth of his son, French icon Thierry Henry will be back to resume his partnership up top with Kenny Cooper. Australian star Tim Cahill has stepped into the playmaker role in front of ex-United midfielder Dax McCarty, who is enjoying a career year. And options on the flanks include proven veterans Sebastien Le Toux, Joel Lindpere and Jan Gunnar Solli.
Although Bill Gaudette has filled in well for injured rookie Ryan Meara in goal, New York’s back line has been less than stellar. Lately, All-Star Heath Pearce has developed a decent partnership in the middle with Swedish international Markus Holgersson — so much so that coach Hans Backe went with natural center back Wilman Conde at Pearce’s typical left back spot against Kansas City.
Other options at the fullback position are Solli, Costa Rican left back Roy Miller, versatile rookie Connor Lade and right back Brandon Barklage, who scored twice against his former team in New York’s 3-2 win over United in June. While inconsistent Mexican international Rafa Marquez is sidelined by a calf strain, his absence carries little impact.
Here is the starting lineup I see United coach Ben Olsen using tonight:
Hamid; Najar, McDonald, Dudar, Korb; DeLeon, Kitchen, Boskovic, Pontius; De Rosario, Pajoy
As usual, I can see Olsen going in many different directions tonight, especially considering United are playing their fourth game of a stretch featuring five matches in 13 days. Defensively, Dejan Jakovic could return to partner with McDonald after Emiliano Dudar struggled a bit against Montreal. While Robbie Russell (foot) is probable, his fitness likely isn’t up to speed yet, which means another run at right back for Andy Najar.
After playing just 39 minutes in United’s past two matches, a fresh Branko Boskovic could get the nod over Marcelo Sargosa in the middle, though dropping Dwayne De Rosario back is another possible route. While I see Chris Pontius starting on the left, Olsen surely will be tempted to play him at forward, where he has had great success against New York this year (five goals in two games).
Striker Maicon Santos (toe) could be a candidate for an appearance off the bench after returning to training yesterday. With just 30 minutes played in United’s past five games, Hamdi Salihi also is an option up top if Olsen wants to test his depth. Lionard Pajoy, after all, has logged a lot of minutes since joining United less than two weeks ago.