Major League Soccer has dubbed this week Heineken Rivalry Week. The match between D.C. United and the New York Red Bulls headlined the week. One of the oldest rivalries in the league, although not as geographically close as Philadelphia-Washington or the Red Bulls-NYCFC, the rivalry between D.C. United and the Red Bulls was not manufactured by the league. This dispute between clubs was born and raised by the fans.
After a recent plague of slow starts, the Eastern Conference leader D.C. United could use the tense atmosphere to end the recent early minute woes.
“There is a lot of excitement this week,” defender Taylor Kemp said. “It’s a big week for us for a lot of reasons. It starts with the rivalry by also has to do with where we fall on the table in relation to each other.”
United remains atop the Eastern Conference despite dropping its last two matches. The most recent loss came at home against the San Jose Earthquakes, a team still fighting to maintain a spot in the playoffs in the West. Recently, San Jose secured three commanding victories over Supporter’s Shield contenders Sporting Kansas City 5 to 0, D.C. United 2 to 0, and LA Galaxy 1 to 0.
“We haven’t performed the way we’ve wanted to the past couple weeks and we see this as an opportunity,” Kemp said. “The intensity has been really high this week.”
As for the Red Bulls, the team suffered a 3-2 defeat at the hands of the Chicago Fire last Wednesday. The loss snapped a six-game unbeaten streak for New York, including five wins and one draw.
“It’s MLS. On any given day, Wednesday, and away it’s not easy. I give Chicago a lot of credit. I thought they caused some trouble with the counter,” coach Ben Olsen said of the Red Bulls’ loss.
United will have several players returning from injury against New York. D.C.’s team health has been a bit of a roller coaster this seasons. Midfielders Chris Pontius and Michael Farfan (hamstring) are slowly returning to the regular lineup. Both players have been able to play decent minutes in the two CONCACAF Champion’s League victories the past two weeks.
The CONCACAF games have served as ideal training grounds for players to come back from injury without the immediate strains of the MLS regular season games.
United’s most recent injuries include Forward Fabian Espíndola (knee) and 2014 MLS
Goalkeeper of the year Bill Hamid (knee). According to Olsen both players are making progress.
“Things are looking up with both of them. They had full out training sessions today and both got through with no issues,” Olsen said at training on Friday. “Now it is just a matter of making the decision on who is going to be the starting group.”
D.C. United will get an extended break following the rivalry match. The team will get two weeks off without a game, but the team is focused on the task at hand.
“I’m not concerned about the two weeks. I am concerned about this Sunday. That is our sole focus,” Olsen said Friday.
D.C. United faces off against the New York Red Bulls Sunday, August 30 at 7 p.m. The game will be broadcast on Fox Sports 1.
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