D.C. United came out of its weekend draw with New York feeling like the better club and talking about missed an opportunity to whup a team that was there for the playoff whupping.
Nothing wrong with confidence, of course, except for this: they didn’t actually win the game and now the playoff waters are more choppy. Ben Olsen’s team will have to win at a place where not a lot of teams did in 2012.
Meanwhile, the weather looks quite uncooperative, with nasty stuff on the way for the team’s Eastern Conference semifinal series return leg.
Kickoff: 8 p.m. ET, Red Bull Arena, NBC Sports Network
The series is tied on total goals, 1-1
On the New York Red Bulls
- Hans Backe’s team was 11-2-4 with a plus-16 goal difference at Red Bull Arena this year.
- Hard to makes heads or tails of the Rafa Marquez situation. Was that alleged calf injury a real factor in his halftime removal, or just more cover for a player who doesn’t really deserve it? He was spotted arguing with manager Hans Backe going into the locker room at halftime Saturday, which seems suspect. Then again, Marquez is made of Teflon, isn’t he? Nothing sticks. No matter how many different ways he hurts the team through ill temper, flagging effort or thoughtless quotes, they just trot him back out there.
- What Backe said about Marquez’s injury Monday: “Probably it has to be … a late decision, I would guess. I don’t think it’s a big (injury), but definitely we will have to wait until tomorrow to tell.”
- A potential replacement plan looks fairly straight forward: Heath Pearce, recently relocated from center back to the left, will move back into the middle alongside Markus Holgersson. Roy Miller or Wilman Conde will play on the left.
- Perhaps Kenny Cooper and his 18 goals, benched for Saturday’s contest, wouldn’t have helped create a couple more chances. But he could hardly have helped produced fewer than replacement Sebastien Le Toux, so that choice was a push at very best for Backe.
- Thierry Henry was hardly at his 15-goal, 12-assist best Saturday. They need more from his Wednesday.
- Goalkeeper Luis Robles sure didn’t look like a man making just his fifth start this year. Among his five saves were two real delights.
On D.C. United
- If United’s road record this year (5-9-3) doesn’t look too promising, this might: Ben Olsen’s team, adding more defensive focus, went 2-0-2 away from RFK Stadium down the stretch, allowing just two goals over those four contests.
- That said, Olsen must replace Andy Najar, whose attacking push up the right side will be sorely missed.
- (MORE: Longer suspension ahead for Najar?)
- Important, second year holding midfielder Perry Kitchen: “There’s still 90 minutes to go. Our heads are up.”
- The finishing simply has to improve – because New York might not kick one in for the visitors this time. And Bill Hamid cannot have another wobble. So, suffice to say the work in front of both goals needs a boost.
- Underrated hero of Saturday’s match: unheralded left back Chris Korb. Along with Chris Pontius, they were United’s top men in Saturday’s draw. (Yes, Pontius needed something better from the penalty spot, but he was The Man on the United’s attack otherwise.)
The predominant back story here is the Hurricane Sandy-related venue swap. Originally, this second leg was to be in New York, but conditions demanded a change.
If this one is tied after 90 minutes, an extra 30-minute period (and potentially penalty kicks) will determine the survivor – and that will not make United fans any more pleased over the whole unfortunate situation.
United could surely squeak out a 1-0 result … and if Backe’s Red Bulls can’t muster any more urgency than we saw in most matches down the stretch, the most talented team ever assembled on paper will fall way too quietly.