WASHINGTON — In a rivalry as old as Major League Soccer, D.C. United welcomes the New York Red Bulls to Audi Field Wednesday for the first match of the Atlantic Cup.
The last time these two teams met was in the final farewell to United’s long-time home RFK Stadium. This time the setting is a bit shinier, but the rivalry remains the same. United and the Red Bulls meet up three times this season in the span of three months.
United leads the all-time series with 34 wins to the Red Bulls’ 27. As of late, United (3-8-5, 14 points) has struggled to keep up while New York flourished in its clear identity. The Red Bulls (12-5-2, 38 points) sit comfortably in third in the Eastern Conference. United, on the other hand, struggled with a long road trip to start the season.
“It was a tough stretch for us, but now there is some urgency,” defender Steve Birnbaum said. “We know we need to win the majority of games at home. [The Red Bulls] are not only a rival, but they are someone in the eastern conference that we would like to beat to help us move up the table.”
While United won its first-ever home game at Audi Field, the club stumbled in a 3-1 loss to Atlanta Saturday.
“We have to put that in the past quickly,” Birnbaum said. “There is more of a responsibility on us to make sure we perform well at home and pick up as many points as we can.”
United has the fewest number of games played in the league, but must kick into high gear in order to even consider the thought of a playoff spot.
— District Ultras (@DistrictUltrasX) July 25, 2018
In his second game with United, Designated Player Wayne Rooney got his first MLS start. Missed plays and a giveaway that lead to Atlanta’s first goal marred the new beginning. Rooney played 66 minutes against Atlanta, which was twice the amount he played in the Audi Field opener. Coach Ben Olsen said Rooney could have gone longer.
Despite the stumble, United will will stick to their plan and will not make many changes going into Wednesday’s match, Olsen said.
“We have three days in between games. There are times that wholesale changes are necessary, but I certainly don’t think this will be one of those,” Olsen said. “For the first time this season we are going to have to start to rely on depth. Not through injury but through minutes.”
As for the players, they are fully aware of what the compact schedule means.
“Physically you can’t train as hard as you normally would throughout the week because there are only three days between games,” Birnbaum said. “Physically it is a little more taxing, but happens with the schedule. Mentally, it is kind of nice. After what happened Saturday, you cam brush it off and get another game really quickly.”