For perhaps the first time that I can remember in my years of following the Union I am going in to the game on Saturday with an air of expectation that is positively, erm... positive. Instead of hoping that the U can beat the hated Henry and his all-star cast of over-hyped narcissists I am actually expecting the win. The creative shackles and self-doubt engendered in Hackwoth's ‘system' have been dispatched with authority and perhaps more importantly also with a minimum of ‘look at me' fuss by Jim Curtin. In a manner that is not unlike the way he used to dispatch opposing crosses out of his eighteen yard box as a no-nonsense defender in his playing days of yore, every member of the team now seems to have a very simple remit: defend in pairs, support runners, keep your shape as a team, and in the words of The Hitchhiker's Guide to The Galaxy, "Don't Panic!"
With a core belief shared by the team working as a unit and brimming with self-confidence (but not cockiness, take note Messrs. Henry, Cahill, Wright-Philips, et al) there is reason to believe that anything less than the six points on offer on Saturday (okay, it is only technically three for the win but at this stage of the season I am legally obliged by the sports writing cliché police to call this match a six-pointer) will be a bigger disappointment than when you ordered that ab machine off the telly and your gut still looks more like Ron Burgundy than Ronaldo.
We all know what the Red Bulls are going to do. They are going to attack down the wings, try and play through balls if the defense is caught square, and they are going to try and give the ball to Henry. A lot. And when his highness feels that he isn't getting the ball enough he is going to come deep and look to receive the ball. In fact, even if the laws of the game permitted everyone to have their own ball it still wouldn't be enough for Titi. So, stay organized at the back and deny Henry the ball - sounds easy. We have the speed of Gaddis, the steel of Edu, and the experience of Valdes to handle the Red Bulls defensively. What concerns me a little more is whether or not we will take our goal-scoring opportunities.
Which version of Andrew Wenger will show up at the park this Saturday? Will it be the gormless lunk who genuinely looks like some college kid that sneaked out of the gift shop in a replica jersey and is just out there running around earnestly but who secretly knows he doesn't really belong? Or will it be the Wenger who is full of confidence, pace, aggression, and (most importantly) footballing intelligence that we have seen bits and pieces of lately? How long will Casey last? The Red Bulls play a very physical style of defense and he won't be able to bully them so easily - now having said that, he does seem to enjoy playing against them. Again, which will it be - a petulant and frustrated Casey or the dominant powerhouse?
Now it is finally time to talk about the 300 pound gorilla in the room. Will Curtin rest players for this game to save them for Tuesday's Cup Final? Which is more important - the six points (again... legally obliged) or the prospect of leggy players running out of steam against the run-and-gun Sounders?
Let me know your thoughts below.