Harrison, NJ – With the first Atlantic Cup match of the new season taking place at Red Bull Arena on Saturday, there are plenty of juicy storylines for fans to sink their teeth into.
Perhaps the most notable plot point in Red Bull New York's first meeting with D.C. United this season is the relationship of the two head coaches, Mike Petke and Ben Olsen.
Petke and Olsen have known one another for nearly 20 years, constantly battling on the pitch as players. Both men joined their respective clubs out of college in 1998 as Petke signed on with the MetroStars while Olsen got drafted by United.
They were adversaries for much of their careers, save for a brief spell when Petke was dealt to D.C. and the two helped guide United to MLS Cup glory in 2004.
But now, Petke and Olsen have seen their rivalry graduate from the pitch to the touchlines as they lead their respective clubs into battle as head coaches.
Olsen took control of the D.C. United managerial responsibilities in 2010, inheriting an admittedly bad team. But he was able to orchestrate a playoff return for the four-time MLS Cup winners, seeing the club qualify for the postseason after a five-year absence. It didn't end there as Olsen guided United to a two-legged win over the Red Bulls in last year's quarterfinals.
Petke, meanwhile, is brand new to the head-coaching scene. Upon his retirement in 2010, the 37-year-old served as an assistant coach under Hans Backe only be granted the full-time gig in January.
Even with concerns over Petke's glaring lack of coaching experience, expectations are still high for the Red Bulls given their lavish roster, which includes two Designated Players in Thierry Henry and Tim Cahill.
"Yeah, I think he does have it harder than me," Olsen told MLSsoccer.com with regards to Petke. "When I took over, we were a pretty poor team. The expectations were pretty low. I had a year to disassemble the team and get the guys I wanted. The expectations for [the Red Bulls] are very different. It's the highest-profile job in the league with even higher expectations."
It's safe to say that those lofty expectations have not been met early on in the season. The Red Bulls, who were on the road for their first two games, have managed just one point despite holding second-half leads in both of its encounters. New York opened the campaign with a 3-3 draw against the Portland Timbers before throwing away three points in a 2-1 loss against the San Jose Earthquakes, a match that the Red Bulls led with just seven minutes to go.
D.C. has fared marginally better through its first two games of the season, falling 2-0 at the Houston Dynamo before edging Real Salt Lake at home in a 1-0 victory.
United will welcome Dwayne De Rosario back to the fold on Saturday. The 2011 MLS MVP was suspended for the first two matches of the campaign, but he is set to return to action against his former club to shoulder some of United's scoring responsibilities.
"A lot more clinical, and that's including myself, you know?" said Chris Pontius in assessment of United's offensive output so far. "It's a bitter rest and it'll come, especially when you're bringing back league MVP De Rosario next game so I think that's only going to ease things up for us."