5 Things to Watch: Red Bulls Look to Defend Atlantic Cup against D.C. United

Rivalry renews as New York heads to RFK Stadium looking to extend unbeaten run

After four consecutive ties, the New York Red Bulls will look to move up the standings and earn their first win of the young 2014 season when they take on their archrival D.C. United at RFK Stadium on Saturday. The match will be shown live on MSG+, with pre-game coverage from the nation’s capital beginning at 6:30 PM.

Here are 5 things to watch for this week:

1. Battle for Atlantic Cup

Last season, the Red Bulls won the Atlantic Cup, which is awarded to the winner of the regular season series between the Red Bulls and D.C. United. The Red Bulls finished the season with a 2-0-1 record against the Black-and-Red, picking up a 2-0 win at RFK Stadium on April 13 and a 2-1 victory on August 31. New York has captured the Atlantic Cup for three of the past four seasons.

The rivalry between the two clubs is considered to be one of the most bitter and fierce rivalries in MLS. It dates back to 1996 and when current New York head coach Mike Petke and United head coach Ben Olsen were still in their playing days.

“I view it as a huge rivalry and it’s in my blood because I played on both sides of it and I’ve been a part of it for so many years,” said Petke. “Of course with me it’s upping the intensity during the week, you know, relaying subtle information here and there, little tidbits, and then it’s on them [the players] to feel it, on them to understand it, and on them to execute it.”

Will the Red Bulls rise to the occasion and capture three points?

2. Who will Petke select to be in the Starting 11?

With some injuries this week who will Petke choose to be in this week’s starting lineup against D.C. United? Last Saturday against Montreal, Tim Cahill and Richard Eckersley were injured while Thierry Henry and Jamison Olave were left out of the roster. However, after conceding an early goal, the Red Bulls nearly were able to get a road win on the back of goals from Jonny Steele and Peguy Luyindula before settling for a 2-2 tie against the Impact. 

With Henry and Olave back in the mix, who will be in the 11?

Here is the lineup Petke put out last weekend in Montreal:

Luis Robles, Kosuke Kimura, Ibrahim Sekagya, Armando, Roy Miller, Lloyd Sam, Eric Alexander, Bobby Convey, Jonny Steele, Peguy Luyindula, Bradley Wright-Phillips

3. How to deal with injuries?

Last week, the Red Bulls picked up a road point against the Montreal Impact, but didn’t leave Canada unscarred.

Roy Miller (Achilles) and Armando (hamstring) took knocks last week playing against the Impact. Petke updated reporters on Tuesday with their status, saying they are both considered to be “day to day” as of now. However, Cahill has a chance to be part of the traveling roster for this weekend.

READ: Red Bulls midfielder Tim Cahill may be available for D.C. United clash

4. How will the Red Bulls stop United’s attack?

The Red Bulls will likely be facing the strike tandem of U.S. international Eddie Johnson and former New York forward Fabian Espindola. Both players pose a number of qualities which will be threatening to New York’s backline, with Johnson’s pace and aerial ability and Espindola’s intelligent runs and fierce left foot.  Espindola scored nine goals for New York in 2013 in his only season in the Big Apple.

United will also be able to count on attack-minded midfielder Nick DeLeon as well as former Chicago Fire standout and new acquisition Chris Rolfe, who scored in his debut for D.C. in a 2-0 win over New England at home last Saturday.

5. Robles Standing Tall

Goalkeeper Luis Robles has been a standout for the Red Bulls and continued to prove he is invaluable for New York as he made a career-high nine saves against the Impact. Following Andrés Romero fifth minute goal, the Impact were able to keep up the pressure in the Red Bulls’ defensive end and Robles stopped a flurry of Impact chances to increase the lead, and possibly pull away with the game. In the first half alone, Robles, who was the only player in 2013 to play in every minute of every match, made six big saves in 25 minutes.

Can Robles, who leads MLS in saves, earn his first shutout of the season down in D.C.?