Washington, D.C. – The first edition of the Atlantic Cup in 2012 looks to be an intriguing fixture as Red Bull New York and D.C. United will put their unbeaten streaks to the test at RFK Stadium on Sunday.
Both sides have not lost since beginning the campaign with two successive defeats. New York has fared a bit better of late, taking 10 points from its last four games while D.C. has managed eight points its last five games.
The Red Bulls have been largely carried this season by the play of forwards Thierry Henry and Kenny Cooper. The duo has combined for 14 goals, seven apiece, to lead the league in scoring along with Chris Wondolowski of the San Jose Earthquakes, also with seven.
Despite the offensive firepower, New York's defense remains a major question mark - the Red Bulls have yet to keep a clean sheet this season.
"It's not only individual mistakes, [Saturday] it was ball-watching," Red Bulls head coach Hans Backe said following his side's 2-2 draw with San Jose. "We know Wondolowski's movements in the 18-yard [box]. We have looked at video and things like that, so it's frustrating that we give away goals like that."
Defender Jan Gunnar Solli echoed Backe's frustration.
"It's not good enough," said the Norwegian. "We make easy mistakes. We concede two easy goals. Scoring two at home should be enough to take home the win."
The Red Bulls will head to RFK Stadium without the services of Designated Player Rafa Marquez, who was suspended for three games after a violent clash with Shea Salinas last Saturday. The Red Bulls midfielder missed the team's opening two games this year, serving a suspension from an infraction last season.
D.C. has alternated ties and wins over its last five matches, most recently playing to a 1-1 home draw with the Montreal Impact. The club had a chance to claim back-to-back league wins for the first time since June of 2009.
"It was a disappointing tie for sure," United head coach Ben Olsen said. "They are a good team, but we just didn't have that pep, that anger that we needed [on Wednesday]."
It is perhaps a good sign that United is displeased with recent performances despite picking up eight points from its last five encounters.
"It's frustrating, but, that's five games in a row where we are grabbing points," said striker Chris Pontius after D.C. overturned a one-goal deficit in the draw with Montreal. "It's not like we are dropping points. We have shown resilience the last few games coming from behind."
Maicon Santos has been the star player for United so far this season. He grabbed his fourth goal of the campaign to bring his side level against Montreal, and nearly grabbed a late winner but was denied by the flag of the assistant referee who disallowed the goal with the Brazilian striker ruled offside.
"He's a handful up there, and he's playing with a lot of confidence right now," Olsen said of Santos. "We're trying to get him to face goal more right now; we know he hits a stinger."
If Santos gets a decent amount of minutes, he could have a field day against a porous Red Bulls defense.