WASHINGTON — D.C. United travels north for the second leg of the Atlantic Cup against New York Red Bulls Sunday with a renewed energy.
“Everyone is playing up to the level that they need for us to be successful,” coach Ben Olsen said. “That has not been the case earlier in the season.”
United is on a five-game unbeaten streak. The last time they lost was July 25 at home against the Red Bulls. United has grown a lot in the month since the last Atlantic Cup meeting, changing up the lineup and adding in goalkeeper Bill Hamid. The Red Bulls, on the other side, have stayed true to their core identity of a physical team, lead by century-man Bradley Wright Philips.
“We were looking at the last game: there will a few personnel changes from that game,” Olsen said. “The system has changed a little, so we are different. They’re not. That is a good and bad thing.”
The Red Bulls are on a seven-game unbeaten streak, tying its last two matches. Playing with only nine-men, New York City FC stole a late game point Wednesday from the Red Bulls.
Meanwhile, United is coming into Sunday’s match on a three-game winning streak, the last of which was won against a physical New England Revolution.
“That is still going to be a reality, not only throughout the season, but in particular this weekend against New York … It was a dress rehearsal in a lot of ways for this weekend,” Olsen said. “Nine points in one week is good. Now it is all done, and we have New York, Philly and Atlanta. In the East, there are no breaks.”
New to the team this season, but not new to the oldest rivalry in MLS, Bill Hamid leads United into Sunday’s game from between the posts.
“It feels good to come back to my hometown and see the atmosphere and feel the buzz around the city,” Hamid said. “We are making Audi Field a fortress.”
Since his return, Hamid has started two of the three matches. He recorded two wins, three saves and a shutout against New England. But Sunday, United will have to test its new rhythm on the road.
“We are preparing ourselves for what is going to be one of our toughest games of the season,” Hamid said.
The Red Bulls won the first leg of the 2018 Atlantic Cup at Audi Field thanks to Wright-Phillips, who notched his 100th career goal.
“It is never friendly playing the Red Bulls,” Hamid said. “It is always a challenge for both teams. Physically, it is always going to be a battle.”
United goalkeeper David Ousted had decompression surgery on his left elbow and will miss a minimum of six weeks for recovery. USL Richmond Kickers’ keeper Travis Worra will back up Hamid while Ousted is out.
Ousted was United’s starter before Hamid’s return and played all but three games in net prior to Hamid’s arrival. The Danish goalkeeper went down after a collision with Josef Martinez during United’s 3-1 loss to Atlanta United in July. Ousted played the following four games, but wore a wrap on his arm occasionally during training and after games.
United held its inaugural Academy Day Friday in an effort to to integrate the the teams with the first team.
“This is about interaction with the first team and for our guys to pick someone’s brain and to build a relationship with the guys they see every weekend,” Academy Director Ryan Martin said.
Players from the Under 12 to Under 19 teams joined first starters, including Wayne Rooney, Luciano Acosta and Steven Birnbaum.
“For us, it just shows there is a pathway,” Martin said. “The exciting part, with Ben and Dave’s support, guys from the academy have played significant roles [with the first team].”
The players joined in rounds of stations from soccer tennis to 5v3 drills. The day was about connection and guidance. It was a chance for the first team players to catch their breath ahead of a rivalry match.
“We tried to bring down the load of training a little today,” academy product turned first team player Ian Harkes said, adding the day was for the kids. “Hopefully they can tell people that Wayne Rooney was out here today.”
Among the first team players were United Academy products goalkeeper Bill Hamid, midfielder Chris Durkin, Harkes and defender Jalen Robinson.
“It is extremely important,” Harkes, who joined played for the Academy at 16 years old, said. “It gives the players something to look forward to, to get into a professional environment and get the best training every day will help their growth tremendously.”
#DCU Academy Day
The first team join the academy in a training session to build relationships and give the youth team an opportunity to learn from the professionals at the club. pic.twitter.com/GfEh0301Ss
— Emily Olsen (@Em_Olsen59) August 24, 2018
With Loudoun United coming next year as United’s official USL team, more academy products have a potential to play professional in the system that trained them.
“Close to 12 of the current academy players have trained with the first team, which is a tremendous experience. With the USL coming in, it is really going to give the guys a chance to play professionally,” Martin said. “The question now is, who’s next?”
How to watch
What: D.C. United at New York Red Bulls
Where: Red Bull Arena – Harrison, New Jersey
When: Sunday, August 26 at 7 p.m. ET
Watch: FS1, ESPN+
Predicted Starting XI: Bill Hamid; Joseph Mora, Kofi Opare, Steven Birnbaum, Oniel Fisher; Junior Moreno, Yamil Asad, Luciano Acosta, Russell Canouse, Paul Arriola; Wayne Rooney (C)