|photo by Matt Kremkau
WASHINGTON, DC - Seeking to change their fortunes after a tough week, the Red Bulls invaded the Nation's Capital to clash with a rejuvenated D.C. United side looking to inflict further misery at the expense of their hated foes sweltering Saturday evening at Audi Field.
Gerhard Stuber's side, sitting in fourth place in the tightly congested Eastern Conference, is well aware that points are sorely needed to solidify their place in the table as the push for the playoffs begins. Meanwhile, newly appointed head coach Wayne Rooney has taken charge of a team sitting in 14th place in the conference, ranked 20th in the league in goals scored (although that might improve with the acquisition of Christian Bentenke)
United's genuine chance came in the 24th minute, as forward Kamari Smith squeezed past the New York defense and let off a blistering shot, but it was easily parried away by Carlos Coronel.
The Red Bulls responded with their own chance as Cristian Casseres Jr. picked off an errant pass and darted toward the net, getting the ball over to wide-open Cameron Harper. However, his shot wound up wide to his right and into the stands.
And after 45 minutes of misconnected set pieces and chances by both teams, the first half would end in a stalemate.
Besides a halftime substitution with Omir Fernandez being replaced with Luquinhas, there was not much action between the two sides as they fruitlessly tried to separate themselves. Patryk Klimala somehow got free in the 63rd minute and gave it a go from a distance, but his chance went begging, albeit missing the left post by mere inches.
United had a golden chance ten minutes later when John Tolkn carelessly tried to play the ball only to be dispossessed by Chris Dirkin. He got the ball to Taxiarchis Fountas near the box, but his shot sailed high and over the bar as the home supporters gasped in exasperation.
As the match wound down, both teams would leave the arena just as things began. Scoreless. And for the Red Bulls, they will now head home to change their fortunes (and get a small measure of payback) against Orlando City, the team that put them on this path when they lost in humiliating fashion in the U.S.Open Cup semifinal.
THE BIG PICTURE:
Full disclosure: It was pretty. Not by a long stretch. Some would disagree, but one of the "unwritten rules" of soccer is that any point you can get on the road, especially against your bitter rival, is good. And Coach Struber said as much during the post-match press conference:
"I think today the big goal was to bounce back with a good result. In the end, we had a clean sheet, we bounced back with a clean sheet. I think this was the first necessary step in a good direction. Today I would say we bounced back with a good defensive structure, with good defensive behavior. This lets us hope for a good next weekend, we have one week now to prepare fresh brains and fresh bodies so that we are ready against Orlando again."
With less than ten matches on the regular season and sitting firmly in fourth place in the Eastern Conference, his team is looking forward to the prospect of regaining the top spot, as Captain Aaron mentioned:
"I think it's possible, but I think a big goal for us was to have a home playoff game to start this to end this season. That's been our goal, to end in the top four and I think, I'm not sure I haven't looked at the standings after tonight, but I think we're still in that number four spot. So bare minimum we want to stay at four and if we can move with the table the even better."
Also, in soccer, like in all sports, expectations run high, especially at this level. For a young team such as this, mistakes can be and will be made. However, maturity plays a huge role when trying to stave off warranted criticism from a fanbase with an insatiable appetite for championship glory.