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THROWDOWN THURSDAY: New York City vs. DC United preview

In desperate need of a result to stay alive in the playoff race, the Bronx Blues welcome first-place United to Yankee Stadium for a weeknight clash.

The highest-paid beard in MLS.
The highest-paid beard in MLS.
Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

Look at it this way: at least New York City's fans weren't given a full week to wallow in the existential devastation of Sunday's 2-0 scraping at the hands of the rival Red Bulls, who completed a clean sweep of their cross-river counterparts.

Fittingly, Thursday night's opponent is the only one in Major League Soccer that hates the Red Bulls more.

Winners of their last three on the trot, DC United enter the contest at the top of the Eastern Conference table. Their 44 points in 25 matches place them streets (and avenues and boulevards) ahead of New York City, who have earned just 24 in two fewer games.

Thought last weekend at Red Bull Arena was bad? It gets harder still for New York's newest team. Even if they manage a result against United, the next two opponents bring similar steel: two matches against Columbus come on either side of a much-awaited showdown with LA Galaxy.

So, amidst their most brutal stretch of fixtures for the year, how can New York City hope to acquit themselves?

It all comes down to the defense, which was exposed in recent weeks by both the Red Bulls and Montreal, who used quick counters and constant attacking pressure against the ever-shaky NYC midfield base and the back four it has been consistently unable to shield. Jefferson Mena and Shay Facey haven't learned to coexist at center back, while new star men Andrea Pirlo and Frank Lampard have found themselves outrun and overwhelmed amid the kind of defensive workload they haven't had to shoulder in at least a decade.

Whether through long balls (think Montreal's Dominic Oduro) or speedy counters (think New York's Bradley Wright-Phillips, Mike Grella, & Lloyd Sam), New York City has struggled to get itself together at the back. Will things finally turn around this week?

It may be a blessing that Lampard has been labeled questionable for the match after leaving Wednesday's training session with a tweaked quad-- that likely means Kwadwo Poku, Tommy McNamara, and Mix Diskerud will be able to combine to bring an extra dose of athleticism and ferocity in front of the Zen-like Pirlo and attack-doggish Andrew Jacobson.

The task won't be easy, however: United goalkeeper Bill Hamid is one of the best in the business, and the outfield grouping has consistently earned results without having to dominate much possession of the ball. New York City, of course, is a master class in "empty possession," keeping the ball well without creating a proportional number of chances on goal.

Winger Chris Rolfe leads the black-and-red with nine goals on the year, backed by an attacking group that includes Costa Rica international Jairo Arrieta. At the back, Steve Birnbaum anchors a tough bunch that consistently dominates duels in the air.

The margin of error will be, to say the very least, extremely low for the home team.

RUNNIN' THE NUMBERS

  • 13: United's advantage in goal differential over New York City. The teams stand at +8 and -5 respectively
  • 7.4: Rating, out of 10, for United keeper Bill Hamid, according to WhoScored.com. It's the site's highest rating for an MLS goalkeeper this year.
  • +25: Shot advantage for Montreal last week against DC. United won the game anyway, 1-0, scoring on their only shot of the game.
  • 50/5, 40/1: Yellow cards/red cards on the year for New York City and DC respectively.
  • 14: Away points taken by United this year. New York City have registered 13 points at home.

HERE IS THE MESSIAH. ALSO, A STATUE.

PirloRedeemer

Photo: Getty Images

POTENT QUOTABLES

  • NYC assistant coach C.J. Brown on the current condition of the squad in training:
"Our guys looked sharp and a lot of them wanted to do more. I think after the tough loss over the weekend the guys are ready to get after it."
  • DC gaffer Ben Olsen on last week's win against Montreal:
"We rode our luck at times and weren't at our sharpest. But we get our goal on the road, Bill [Hamid] makes a few saves, a few guys make some big defensive plays for us, and we take home three points."
  • NYC midfielder Tommy McNamara on his team's wasted opportunities at Red Bull Arena:
"We’re disappointed to lose three times to any team in this league. It came down to execution; we didn’t execute well enough in the final third today.
  • United's Davy Arnaud on finding ways to win, regardless of what the stats say:
"I don’t pay attention to the stats. We won 6-4 [two weeks ago], and everybody was complaining about us letting in too many goals. We don’t concede a goal this week, and now we're talking about taking only one shot. But it's three points last week and it's three points again this week."
  • NYC forward Patrick Mullins on the key to beating DC:
"A big key is to match DC's intensity. They’re a very hard-working, blue-collar team that brings that kind of work rate every weekend from the defense to the midfield to the forwards up front. To give ourselves a chance against a really good team we have to make sure to top that energy."

A MOTIVATIONAL MESSAGE FROM BROOKLYN'S BIG DADDY KANE