Battle for Atlantic Cup heats up in NY

By Charles Boehm / MLSnet.comWASHINGTON -- D.C. United's hunt for their first road win of 2009 takes them to the New Jersey Meadowlands this Sunday, where the Black-and-Red will look to build some spring momentum with the renewal of their Atlantic Cup rivalry with the New York Red Bulls.Both teams have experienced their fair share of hiccups thus far this season. But United enters the weekend in better spirits thanks to Wednesday's 2-0 win against FC Dallas in U.S. Open Cup qualifying action, a victory that showcased the potential residing in the younger members of Tom Soehn's squad. Meanwhile, New York fell 1-0 to Kansas City in a league match at CommunityAmerica Ballpark on Thursday night, as Red Bulls defender Carlos Johnson was red carded just two minutes in for a foul on Herculez Gomez in the penalty area.D.C. is nonetheless braced for a taxing contest on Sunday, mindful of the challenges posed by their rivals' many attacking weapons and the hard, fast artificial surface at Giants Stadium."Turf always plays differently and obviously it's a game on the road, that's always difficult," said defender Bryan Namoff on Wednesday. "New York's been playing well ... we really have to be defensively minded going in there, but at the same time, allow ourselves to work the way we did tonight."United's traditional adherence to a flowing, pass-and-move style requires a certain amount of adaptation to artificial turf. But the squad is in no rush to make excuses ahead of their first match of the season on turf."We're playing against a conference opponent and the goal is always to win those games," said striker Luciano Emilio. "Regarding the field, we know that it's not the best field to play on but we've played there before, so we should be accustomed to playing on that sort of surface."United were hammered 4-1 in their last trip to the Meadowlands, an Aug. 10 loss last year that, in retrospect, helped nudge them out of last season's playoff picture. D.C. has rarely been embarrassed by New York in such fashion and the result was particularly galling in light of their inability to hold an early lead after Jaime Moreno's 16th-minute goal -- to say nothing of the fact that the Red Bulls eventually squeezed into the final postseason berth ahead of D.C. and made a stunning run to the MLS Cup Final.Soehn's charges recognize the importance of avoiding such mental breakdowns this season, having already blown leads in their previous away matches against Los Angeles and Real Salt Lake."It's going to be intense and I think we have to go into this game and know that it's going to be tough, and not be so defensive," said Santino Quaranta. "Let's try to go at them a little bit."Soehn will once again have some difficult decisions to make as he selects his first XI against the Red Bulls. Quaranta's strong display against Dallas gave notice that he's fit enough to contend for a starting role up top or on the wing and the same goes for Fred, another preseason hamstring casualty now rounding into form. The Brazilian looks like a leading choice to man United's playmaking spot on Sunday as Christian Gomez recovers from his own hamstring tweak.Ben Olsen and Clyde Simms will likely return to the heart of the D.C. midfield but Soehn will have to choose between two in-form center backs, Greg Janicki and Dejan Jakovic, to anchor the defense behind them. Whoever gets the nod will face the unenviable task of shadowing one of the league's top marksmen in Juan Pablo Angel."Such a difficult player to mark, because at any point in time he can pull off something great, and he's such a good finisher that you always have to keep an eye on him," said Namoff. "Even if he kind of stays out of a play for a brief spell, he's someone that can come back and hit a half-chance and get a goal on you."