Always an intense feud, the long-running rivalry between D.C. United and the New York Red Bulls was injected with an extra dose of intrigue last week.
Just 12 days after pulling off a blockbuster trade that saw United ship midfielder Dax McCarty to New York for five-time All-Star playmaker Dwayne De Rosario, the Interstate 95 foes will clash Saturday in Harrison, N.J.
It will be the teams’ second meeting of the season after New York handed United a 4-0 drubbing at RFK Stadium in April. For a D.C. organization that historically has dominated New York, the result left a bitter taste that has lingered for the past two months.
“We got smacked pretty good,” midfielder Chris Pontius said. “I definitely don’t think we’re the same team. We obviously know the mistakes we made in that game, and we’re looking to fix them.”
The early returns from last week’s swap have been positive for both sides. De Rosario had an active evening during United’s 2-2 draw with Philadelphia last weekend, finding plenty of touches on the ball and notching an assist on Josh Wolff’s opener.
“To have an immediate impact like that is always good,” De Rosario said of his debut. “If we can continue to build our communication, we’ll be good.”
McCarty, meanwhile, has efficiently played as a one of two holding midfielders in his first matches for the Red Bulls (6-3-10). It’s an adjustment that largely frees wingers Dane Richards and Joel Lindpere of defensive obligation while opening space for striker Thierry Henry to create from deeper positions.
“It’s obviously a more defensive move by New York,” Pontius said. “So we need to get after them more where they are going forward. If they’re going to be attacking from the wings a lot more now, that’s where they’re going to be vulnerable for us to attack.”
Although the McCarty-De Rosario showdown in the middle will be the most scrutinized matchup, New York’s star-studded roster features plenty of skill and athleticism for D.C. (4-5-7) to worry about — much of which was on display during the Red Bulls’ 5-0 win over Toronto FC on Wednesday.
Henry buried his league-leading ninth goal of the season. The right-sided combination of Jan Gunnar Solli and Richards combined for three assists, torching Toronto much like the duo burned United in April. Lindpere notched his fourth goal in three games. Forward Juan Agudelo, back from a month of U.S. national team duty, scored twice.
It was the epitome of a squad clicking on all cylinders.
“They’re a very dangerous team going forward,” D.C. coach Ben Olsen said. “If you sleep for a second, they have real talented, experienced guys there that will punish you.”
To United’s advantage, the Red Bulls will be playing their third contest in eight days Saturday. And New York will be without Finnish midfielder Teemu Tainio (suspended because of yellow card accumulation) and veteran center back Rafael Marquez (hamstring strain).
The latter, a designated player signed from European power FC Barcelona last summer, creates a notable void for a team that builds from the back.
“One of the traits of Marquez is his passing ability, his composure on the ball,” said Wolff, a former U.S. player who has battled against the Mexico captain many times in the past decade. “It goes a long way with them because they’re a possession team and he’s somebody that is very indicative of that. … But whoever’s out there, we’ve got to put them under pressure and make the plays that we can make.”