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D.C. United hosts New York Red Bulls in midweek Atlantic Cup showdown

The Atlantic Cup is one of the oldest rivalries in MLS, but it has taken a bit of a backseat to newer rivalries

Midfielder Felipe Martins faces off against former team New York Red Bulls. (Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

WASHINGTON, D.C. —  D.C. United hosts longtime Atlantic Cup foe New York Red Bulls Wednesday in a midweek matchup at Audi Field.

The Atlantic Cup

It has been one of Major League Soccer’s most contentious showdowns, but the Atlantic Cup may be losing steam with the expansion of the league.

“Everyone has their own feelings on New York and what that rivalry means at this point. It means different things now,” coach Ben Olsen said Tuesday. “It used to be us and New York. It still means a lot to me and a lot of people around here and our fans, but to some players in there it is just another game.”

D.C. United and the Red Bulls, previously the New York/New Jersey MetroStars, have faced off against each other every year since the inception of the league in 1996. Once a tradition in MLS, it has now made way for new rivalries like the Cascadia Cup, Hudson River Derby and El Tráfico.  

Switching sides

This year’s installment of the series kicks off at Audi Field Wednesday with a former Red Bull villain switching sides. United midfielder Felipe Martins spent three seasons with the Red Bulls before a short stent with Vancouver. Now a part of the Black-and-Red, the Brazilian is ready to fight for Untied. 

“I don’t specifically think I have anything to prove to anyone,” Felipe said. “It is not that I need to prove to them who I am, it is more to be ready to get the three points. And then the fans can make their judgement. This is my team. These are my fans. This is my home.”

The last two weeks have been a whirlwind for Felipe. Two weeks ago, he took a redeye flight to D.C. from Vancouver as part of a last-minute trade before the close of the Secondary Transfer Window.

“It has been a pretty seamless transition,” Olsen said. “Usually when you get a seasoned guy that has been in this league for a long time, that transition becomes more seamless.” 

Felipe started next to typical defender Leonardo Jara in a 2-1 victory over LA Galaxy at home. A week late, he flew with his new team back to the West Coast for his first game against his old team next to Júnior Moreno in a 1-0 loss to Vancouver

“It has been quite intense because almost like 10 days after I get traded, I go back to play my former team,” Felipe said. “My family is still there, so I could see them. Now I came back and three days after I am playing Red Bulls. It is even more intense because I spent more time there.”

United (10-8-9, 39 points) is teetering in fourth place in the Western Conference a point ahead of the Red Bulls (11-10-5, 38 points).

The game against New York is the most important game of the season for United, Felipe said. The team has seven games left in the final stretch and several moving positional spots. 

The lineup

United is in the midst of a late season lull; two defensive midfielder are injured, its playmaker has been benched and the new guys are still learning the team’s flow. 

Without defensive midfielders Russell Canouse and Chris Durkin due to injury, United has relied of Felipe the past two matches to line up next to Jara and Moreno respectively. 

“Junior and Leo are smart players,” Felipe said. “It is always about adapting to who you are playing alongside.”

The Red Bulls bring a quicker pace than Vancouver. New York typically plays higher up the field, whereas the Whitecaps sat back last week.

In the game against the Whitecaps, United’s newest forward Ola Kamara came in as a substitute. The former LA Galaxy and Columbus Crew forward played just 16 minutes in his return to MLS.

“He is coming from abroad, but he has also played in this league,” Olsen said. “I see him as a starter and I see him as a guy, in potential areas, as a guy that can come off the bench and score goals for us.”

Kamara subbed on for Wayne Rooney, but Olsen could have the luxury of changing formation and playing Kamara in a two forward system alongside Rooney. 

“My challenge now is to find what our best team is throughout these three games,” Olsen said. “I know it is late in the game to be figuring out your best lineup, but that is just our reality.”

One of those tough decisions is figuring out how to play former starter Luciano Acosta. Olsen benched the No. 10 the past two games, citing it was a “coach’s decisions.” Acosta’s future at the club is still in question with his contrast expiring in the offseason. 

“No player wants to sit on the bench, especially with the quality that he brings, but this is professional sports. I am making decisions on what I think is the best group to win a game. He’ll be involved in that sometimes and sometimes not. It is no different than any other player,” Olsen said. “I thought he came in the other night and gave us a nice spark.”

Match information

When: Wednesday, Aug. 21 at 8:00 p.m. ET

Where: Audi Field —  Washington, D.C.

Broadcast: UniMas

Streaming: ESPN+ (Subject to location based blackouts)




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