Throughout United’s hideous start to the season, numerous fingers have been pointed by the media and outsiders that the front office is one step away from drastic measures with coaches, players, groundskeepers, whatever. Now, while I personally think those things have been overblown, the fact remains that United cannot keep losing or changes will be made regardless of how much the team has shown they will stick together.
DC definitely has their work cut out for them heading into Foxborough. New England is on a 3 game winning streak, outscoring their opponents by 5-1 over that span, which has led them to a tie at the top of the Eastern standings. While United is still wallowing at the bottom despite their recent win, and is carrying with them an abysmal 0-4 record on the road with no goals scored at all outside RFK.
There’s no doubt DC will be looking to stop the Revolution by replicating the effort and heart they’ve shown over the past week against Toronto at the very least. Obviously, without the effort and organization they have shown recently, the team has no chance at all. But, effort alone will not be enough unless they get lucky and NE has one of those days where the ball just won’t go in for them which seems unlikely. No, for United to have a chance, they simply must eliminate the mistakes that have been plaguing their defense so far this year if they are to have any chance at all against the opportunistic Revolution.
One thing that is promising is that United’s defense has gotten a lot healthier and more experienced playing together recently, and they will need that depth and organization as Peralta may not be in NE for the match since his wife is due any minute with their second child. He may join the team just before the game, but even if he doesn’t United has some good options that actually work out tactically as well.
One key to keeping NE impotent is to get your outside backs forward to keep their pesky wings out of the attack as much as possible. Bryan Namoff is going forward much better and way more often as the team has come together recently, but he will have his hands full with the lively and effective Honduran, Castro on that side. On the other side, Gonzalo Martinez has been outstanding going forward, but perhaps a trifle ineffective in the end, since moving to the left back slot when McTavish returned. If Peralta plays, Martinez stays there and grows more comfortable in the attack. But if Peralta stays home, then Martinez likely goes back to the middle, and Burch comes in on the left where he might get forward more effectively than Martinez.
Burch has been the odd man out since McTavish returned, but he can be a force going forward and must be chomping at the bit to get back in there and prove he belongs. The Revs like to use Wells Thompson on that side and if Burch can’t outplay him, or at least play him even up, then the soccer gods simply have it out for us.
Another bit of promising news is that Twellman will likely be out for the match and considering the 13 goals in 20 games he’s scored against us will be out of the lineup, that’s got to be a huge sigh of relief. Mansally will be out too, being called up for Gambia for African Qualifiers. Dube and Cristman, who’s a poor man’s Dichio, will likely be their forwards and they are no where near as frightening. Still, they are both opportunistic, which means any more defensive gaffs and DC is sunk for sure.
That includes some shaky goalkeeping from Zach Wells, too. He has not totally been at fault for many of the goals against DC, but he hasn’t made enough big saves, nor has he been in command of his box as much you’d like to see a third of the way into the season. United has not won much less shut out a team on the road since it had four straight road shutouts late in 2007. DC hasn’t even shutout anyone at all this year for that matter. Assuming the defense keeps it tight, it’s time for Wells to hang a bagel on somebody, and he better do it soon, or he could be watching Carvallo if Soehn’s ominous quotes don’t light a fire under him.
Still, ominous quotes aside, if DC cuts out the mistakes and pushes up their outside backs often, then the Revolution are down to relying on quick counter attacks and set plays, which is a much more manageable proposition, especially without Twellman lurking in the area. If DC keeps it tight and keeps enough possession that NE has to chase a good portion of the night, then a 0-0 tie is not out of the question at all. I think if anyone asked Soehn if he’d take a tie right now, or go for door number two later, I think the point would be chalked up and the team flight cancelled.
Now, if we really want to get silly, DC can actually pull off a win in this game if they get some decent luck for a change. NE has been beaten at home twice already this year by teams that relied on mistake free defending and a three pronged midfield attack to stretch the field sideways and deep. Colorado used Cooke, Clark and Christian Gomez to pull the Revolution apart and win 1-0, while the Fire have hammered the Revs this year with Mapp, Thorrington, and Blanco beating them twice overall and outscoring them 6-1 in the process.
DC will have Fred, Quaranta and Gallardo who are all fully capable of punishing the Revs if their defense gets pulled apart. The Revs want to keep things compact and jam up the middle either suffocating Gallardo or kicking him to death by launching Joseph and Larentowicz at him. This leaves their defenders able to sit back and clean up any balls over the top, as well as get in a few Heaps haymakers of their own.
(On a side note, it doesn't bode well that Abbey Okalaja is reffing this one as he is well known for letting things get out of control. He typically makes wildly inconsistent calls, but it hurts DC particularly as United relies on possession and letting hard fouls go knocks the team off their game often especially on the road. But, fingers crossed his bad calls hurt them as much as he will likely hurt us.)
But the point remains, if Fred and Santino get wide and deep, Heaps and Albright can easily be exposed, which pulls Raggedy Andy and the Ginger Assassin out wide to help them, which leaves Gallardo or Moreno or Emilio room to operate. If DC does that, they can replicate the success that the Fire has had against the Revs playing Nichol's particular tactics.
Getting back to DC creating room to operate in the middle, it is absolutely time for Moreno to have a huge impact on the result of a game no matter what happens tactically. This season, he has been good, made some nice passes, held possession pretty well, and has scored a few goals mostly penalties, but he is a leader on this club and needs to show he can be the difference in the result of a game.
It’s not enough for Jaime to just play well. He’s the best forward in league history. He has to carry the team from time to time, or at least put the fear of that happening at any moment into defenders. He’s scored 13 goals of his own against NE and has numerous axes to grind from his rough treatment up there over the years. This would be a good time for him to pull off another patented mazy run through the box ending with yet another taunting roller past a prone Parkhurst, a humbled Heaps, and a floundering and frustrated Reis.
As for some other intangibles, NE has not actually beaten DC in Foxborough since the Boswell own goal fiasco in 2005. United won last year with Gros scoring a pure hustle goal and Emilio lighting up two more, and DC has had valiant ties up there the two previous games. Santino also has some pleasant memories to dwell upon as he lit up NE for two goals in his rookie year when he was a merciless attacker which is eerily similar to the way he has been playing for the last few weeks.
Obviously, DC has shown very little of that aggression on the road this year, but what little they have shown has been growing the past few weeks. Gallardo’s incredible goal against Chivas, that valiant effort in Toronto, and the rousing win in RFK last Saturday. But, that’s the key, United had the crowd behind them in RFK and they won’t in NE. They have to show that they can at least be respectable on the road before it can be said they are truly back in the hunt.
A tie, or even a stunning win (soccer gods willing) would go a long way to proving that point. A good effort or simple bad luck loss might be tolerated, many more losses and this team could easily come apart or the front office lose its patience. That’s a revolution no one wants to see, because it would mean this season is dead and buried.
United’s next match is against Houston in RFK next Wednesday, then it’s off to Chicago, before three straight at home against NY, SJ, and Beckham before the Superliga break at the end of June. That’s very few easy games and DC United likely needs 10-12 points out of these next six games to keep the playoffs in sight. If they don’t it could become quite the summer of discontent.