Lineup spots suddenly at a premium for DC

United head to New Jersey with more than results at stake

Points, pride and payback will be prime motivators for D.C. United in Saturday’s road match against the New York Red Bulls, with the visitors hoping to continue their climb up the standings while avenging a 2-0 home loss to their rivals on May 1.

But for some members of the United starting lineup, there’s also the considerable matter of asserting some job security before the international transfer window opens on Thursday. That’s when new signings Branko Boskovic and Pablo Hernandez become available to head coach Curt Onalfo, and everything could change.

The Black-and-Red rarely have cause or desire to look past Atlantic Cup meetings with New York, their oldest and nearest antagonists, and a debut match at glittering Red Bull Arena gives this trip north particular appeal. Yet United’s hyping of their foreign newcomers has stoked anticipation regarding their impending effect on the DC attack, and put a couple of the team’s incumbents under a microscope with the battle for playing time set to intensify.

“We have been playing very well through the midfield, but the other turn to that is, competition is a great motivator,” Onalfo this week. “We need guys performing to their potential for 90 minutes and if they are not, you can switch it out if you have depth.”

Hernandez has been training with United for some time and will likely be ready to step onto the field as soon as his official paperwork is completed, perhaps as early as Thursday night’s primetime matchup with Sounders FC. Boskovic needs more time for fitness and acclimatization but is eventually expected to slot in at attacking midfielder.

Despite his impact since arriving from Seattle in a late April trade, midfielder Stephen King holds no illusions about the challenge represented by Boskovic, a designated player and established international.

“We’re trying to get better as a team and the way to do that is create more competition amongst the team, so every day you’re trying to prove yourself and either win a spot or keep your spot in the lineup,” he said this week. “Even if it’s maybe, for me, more of a battle getting on the field, I’m up for that and I’m excited about it.”

His efforts could be pivotal on Saturday against the Red Bulls, whose midfield controlled the center of the park to good effect in their previous meeting. Joel Lindpere proved the main protagonist that afternoon at RFK Stadium, and matching the Estonian’s contributions would surely help King emphasize his value to the United cause.

“Any time you play against a team like that, that’s one of your rivals, you know every play’s going to be important,” said King. “It’s going to be a battle in midfield and we’re just excited to get out there again and hopefully get three more points in their new stadium.”