In what is essentially moving week for the Eastern Conference playoff race, D.C. United and the New York Red Bulls look for some upward mobility Wednesday night in a critical matchup in the nation’s capital.
United (10-9-8) are one point better than the Red Bulls (11-5-10) as the clubs occupy fourth and fifth in the East. Both also have matches against teams above them in the standings over the weekend, which has the potential for this contest to be a springboard into the top three depending on results.
D.C. was thwarted in its bid for back-to-back wins for the first time since May over the weekend, losing 1-0 at Vancouver on Saturday. Despite outshooting the Whitecaps 24-8, only two attempts were on target as United could not overcome a goal in the 18th minute. The Black-and-Red’s frustrations of the match were typified by Wayne Rooney, who uncharacteristically lost his cool and berated the fourth official after being substituted in the 74th minute.
“Because I have my opinions on the referees and it’s not very good. So, I feel they need to improve the game – that’s my opinion,” Rooney said post-match. “I feel like I’m entitled to my opinion. I said a couple of weeks ago, I got kicked, the referees do nothing.
“All I’m asking for is a bit of protection and it would be nice if Howard Webb could come to the training ground and let us speak to him over it because I feel it’s happening game after game. And to get some clarification, it would be nice if Mr. Webb came down to the training game and speak to us.”
After scoring 64 goals in 37 matches last term, United’s offense has plummeted to 37 in 29 this year in part due to Luciano’s Acosta’s lack of production. The midfielder totaled 11 goals and 17 assists in 2018 in striking up a devastating partnership with Rooney, but those numbers have tailed off to five and two, respectively.
The Red Bulls were more fortunate over the weekend, playing the New England Revolution to a 1-1 draw Saturday. New York put 10 shots on goal, but only Marc Rzatkowski’s left-footed strike in the 18th minute found the back of the net. Chris Armas’ team nearly took all three points in stoppage time, but Bradley Wright-Phillips had a shot from six yards turned away by Revs keeper Matt Turner.
For Wright-Phillips, his hour-long stint after pressed into action early following an injury to Brian White showed he may finally be over the groin injury that sidelined him for nearly two months.
“Surprisingly good,” said Wright-Phillips, who scored 24 goals in all competitions last year, to ProSoccer USA. “I was worried not getting much of a warm-up, but it helped that I got in a little bit in the first half. Obviously not good circumstances with Brian going down injured, but it helped I got the little 15 minutes or 20 minutes to get me kind of warmed up.”
New York also showed tactical flexibility in this match, with Daniel Royer tucking inside up front to give more of a 4-4-2 look with both White and Wright-Phillips. The 10 shots on target represented a season high for the Red Bulls.
Armas’ team has struggled on the road of late, going 1-1-4 in the last six matches while yielding three or more goals on five occasions. The Red Bulls will cap this week with the second Hudson River Derby at New York City FC on Saturday.
The Red Bulls are 4-4-0 in the last eight games between the teams, with Wright-Phillips’ hat trick providing a point in a 3-3 win at Audi Field in the most recent matchup last season. He erased one-goal leads on all three occasions, with the last in the 90th minute.
(Bradley Wright-Phillips photo courtesy Noah K. Murray/USA TODAY Sports)