RBNY defender Stephen Keel
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RBNY looking to correct defensive mistakes vs. United

UPPER MONTCLAIR, N.J. – Defensive blunders have plagued the New York Red Bulls all season long, and if they are to correct them this weekend, they will have do so against one of their most bitter rivals.

The Red Bulls take on Eastern Conference foe D.C. United at RFK Stadium on Sunday (6 pm ET, ESPN 2) in the teams’ first meeting this season. The game will pit the Red Bulls’ shaky backline, which has yet to record a shutout this season, versus a United offense that has scored seven goals in their last four games.

“We haven’t kept a cleansheet and we’re conceding more goals than we should be,” Stephen Keel told MLSsoccer.com. “I think it’s a couple different factors, some just individual, mental, simple mistakes. Other things are just the defense not playing as tight and as compact as we wanted. Hopefully we’ll clean it up for this Sunday.”

Cleaning it up won’t come easy for the Red Bulls, who will be without Rafa Marquez (suspension), center back Wilman Conde (groin), left back Roy Miller (knee), and central midfielder Teemu Tainio (knee).

The absence of those players means youngsters like rookie fullback Connor Lade and 20-year-old midfielder Victor Palsson could be counted on to take contain the likes of 2011 MVP Dwayne De Rosario, a revitalized Maicon Santos and talented rookie midfielder Nick DeLeon. They’ve guided D.C. to a five-game unbeaten run.

The Red Bulls do have confidence in their younger players, but head coach Hans Backe is not certain his team will be able to replace Marquez’s combination of bite and skill after the Mexican received a three-game ban for breaking Shea Salinas’ collarbone last week.

“I’m not quite sure that we will get the right balance, the balance we want in midfield, if you look at technical skill, physical strength and things like that,” said Backe. “Every player just needs to step up.”

Whether it’s Joel Lindpere or the more defensive-minded Palsson that starts in place for Marquez, the Red Bulls are making a concerted effort to eliminate the bevy of defensive miscues they have suffered thus far.

Doing that will require goalkeeper Ryan Meara to continue to play as well as he has, an improved outing from right back Jan Gunnar Solli and better communication between Keel and center back partner Markus Holgersson, to name just a few.

And the goal, after all, is simple.

“The reality of the situation is we haven’t kept a cleansheet,” said Keel. “The whole team, we’ve talked a lot about it. First and foremost on our agenda is we keep a cleansheet.”

Franco Panizo covers the New York Red Bulls for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at Franco8813@gmail.com

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