Petke: Forget talent; we have to be ready to battle vs. DC United

Red Bulls looking for fast start vs. Eastern Conference leaders

HARRISON, N.J. – As the New York Red Bulls discussed their Sunday matinee clash with rivals D.C. United (2:30 pm ET, NBCSN), one word kept coming up: "battle."

That’s because they expect a hard-fought match from a D.C. team that reminds the Red Bulls a bit of their former selves. Specifically, their 2013 selves. 

That Red Bulls team was a determined blue-collar one that set out to make amends for a disappointing previous season. They ended up winning the Supporters' Shield.

D.C. United, currently leading the Eastern Conference, have enjoyed a remarkable turnaround this season after a record futile campaign last year. They've done it by acquiring a corps of accomplished MLS veterans who know what it takes to compete in get results in MLS.

“They remind me a bit of us [from] last season,” said midfielder Tim Cahill. “They’ve turned into the hardworking team with a strong midfield, good work ethic. They represent what their manager is all about. I’m a big fan of him and he gets it. If we don’t compete just in challenges alone, we lose this match.

“But I think if we can match them physically and, overall technically, we’ve got a good chance of winning the game.”

One would think those chances are improved due to United's short rest period after suffering a 4-1 loss away to the LA Galaxy on Wednesday. But Red Bulls head coach Mike Petke shrugged off that game when asked about it and focused on a different eye-opening D.C. result.

“That game is nothing. They beat Kansas City 3-0 a week or so ago in Kansas City,” he said. “D.C., in my opinion, is at the top of the East because they outwork every single team they play against. It’s all repetitive, saying this to my players week in and week out: The teams that outwork you in this league are usually the teams that are most successful.

“Look at the talent we have – we have phenomenal talent – but if we’re not ready for the battle, if we’re not ready to compete from the first minute, then we’re in trouble.”

The Red Bulls are in need of a victory. They are 2-2-2 in their last six matches and currently sit just one point above the "red line" in the Eastern Conference. But like D.C., New York enter the game coming off Tuesday’s CONCACAF Champions League victory over CD FAS in which some players put in major minutes in .

Cahill is one of those players. The Australian international played 88 minutes in that 2-0 triumph, and Petke said the club will be very watchful of Cahill’s minutes on Sunday in order to avoid letting that "outworking" United team get the better of any fatigued players.

“Not a pre-done type of minute thing, but sure after halftime we’ll keep a close eye on a guy like him,” said Petke. “Roy Miller as well and Lloyd [Sam] played significant minutes, so we’re going to keep an eye on all those guys. At the end of the day, it’s going to be hot, it’s going to be in the middle of the day, it’s going to be a big game, so we need to keep an eye on that and make the right choices.”

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Franco Panizo covers the New York Red Bulls for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached by email at Franco8813@gmail.com.