By Charles Boehm
D.C. United visit Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J. on Sunday evening for a highly-anticipated MLS clash with longtime enemies the New York Red Bulls (7 p.m. kickoff, broadcast live on NBC Sports Network).
Known as the Atlantic Cup, this antagonistic rivalry dates back almost to the league’s foundation in 1996 and their latest meeting features the first-place team in the MLS Eastern Conference (United) versus the third-place Red Bulls, who sit just three points back of D.C. with a game in hand. On Friday the host club announced that tickets to the game had sold out, with a large contingent of United supporters expected to travel up I-95 for the occasion.
“When the league changed the schedule where we would play New York and Philly and New England more I was pumped,” D.C. head coach Ben Olsen told the Capital Soccer Show, the club’s official podcast, this week. “I liked playing in those games as a player, I like coaching in them and I think people enjoy watching them.”
New York stars Thierry Henry and Rafa Marquez have missed their team’s last several games due to injury, but both are projected to be named in the first XI on Sunday. In their recent absence, coach Hans Backe’s shorthanded squad has done well to rack up a 6-2-2 record in all competitions since being routed 4-1 by United at RFK Stadium on April 22, most recently earning a 1-1 road draw against the Vancouver Whitecaps on Wednesday night.
“I think it speaks to the character of the team both home and away that we’re getting points and we’re doing it in different ways,” RBNY defender Heath Pearce, Wednesday’s goalscorer, told the club’s website. “We’re not always playing the most attractive soccer, and sometimes we’re getting points in an attractive way and sometimes we’re grinding it out. That’s the stuff that pays off later in the season.”
United’s roster is almost entirely healthy, giving Olsen some decisions to make regarding his starting 11. One call he’ll surely make: handing star attacker Dwayne De Rosario a prominent role. The Canadian international spent a few star-crossed months with the Red Bulls last season before being abruptly traded to D.C., and has burned New York by notching an assist and a game-winning goal in the teams’ two matches since then.
“This is a game we are looking forward to,” De Rosario told dcunited.com this week. “If we can get a three points in New York it would be a huge motivation, and a morale booster for us.”