WASHINGTON – There’s little doubt the late-game defensive efforts of the New York Red Bulls in their first two matches of the season have been shaky.
Rest assured, D.C. United are well aware.
On the verge of returning to the place where they eliminated the Red Bulls from playoff contention last season, United’s attackers are anxious to jumpstart their offense at Red Bull Arena on Saturday afternoon (12:30 pm, NBC, live chat on MLSsoccer.com).
“Yeah,” said midfielder Nick DeLeon when asked if he was licking his lips at the opportunity. “But I try to keep it inside. Watching game tape and studying the opponent, I feel it’s a good matchup for us offensively, definitely, going forward with Chris [Pontius] on the outside, me on the outside.”
DeLeon figures to primarily be battling New York’s left back – which might no longer be Roy Miller after his blunder-filled performance against San Jose. Regardless of who opposes him, however, DeLeon – who scored the goal that knocked New York out of the playoffs last season – is confident.
“Whoever it is, I’ll be alright,” he said following Thursday’s training session. “I’ve pretty much got their defense scouted out. Their strengths, weaknesses and whatnot. I’m pretty comfortable.
“I think they’re a team that’s struggling a little bit because of all the new pieces and it’s going to take them a little bit to hit their stride. But they are a team with loads of talent, so when they hit their stride, they’ll be a dangerous team for sure.”
United coach Ben Olsen was a bit more reserved regarding his excitement for the rivalry matchup, being that it’s only the third game of the season. But he, too, saw the potential to exploit a struggling New York defense.
“They’ve had periods where they were bad and it ended up costing them,” Olsen said. “But over the course of two games, I think they’ve had good stretches defensively as well. I’m sure they’re working on that and we’ve got to expect a very good performance from them because of the home opener and we have to play our best to date to get a result there. It’s that simple.”
Through two matches this year, United have allowed two goals to New York’s five. Last season in five meetings between the clubs, New York scored seven goals while D.C. netted 10.
“In the couple of games that they’ve played, I don’t know, they looked a little bit unorganized and maybe we can jump on that,” said United center back Dejan Jakovic.
That said, United’s defense also will be in for a difficult task in subduing New York’s potent attack.
“Their attack has always been good,” Olsen said. “They have different guys that can change the game very quickly and they can do it in different ways. Set pieces, buildup centrally, outside backs getting forward, crosses, individual plays, so they’ve got a lot of weapons. They always have. [The question is] can we deal with those and be better in possession and start to have a little bit more of a rhythm in the final third?”