Off to their best start ever and easily dealing with the loss of Ben Olsen to the US national team, DC United on Saturday will host a clearly struggling New England Revolution, trying to stay above water without Clint Dempsey. However, the defending Eastern Conference champions still have the potent former Maryland forward, Taylor Twellman, and will be desperate for points to keep from sliding out of touch with United.
The Revolution have never done very well at RFK Stadium, but that doesn't stop them from periodically coming in here to hang a stunning win on United, like they did early last year in a wild 4-3 match. However, the Revs will be without their homerun hitting Dempsey this time around, and United will be flying high after their sound thumping of Columbus in midweek.
It will, no doubt, be a battle of who scores last once again, as United striker Jaime Moreno duels with Twellman. Moreno has nine career goals against the Revolution, including the two penalty kicks he scored in last year's thriller, and he just scored his 100th league goal in the 5-1 win on Wednesday. However, Twellman has been even more deadly to United with 11 goals in 15 matches against them.
Saturday will also be the first time United's Alecko Eskandarian has gone up against New England goalkeeper Matt Reis since he criminally kneed Eskandarian almost into retirement with a reckless challenge. Eskandarian has only recently returned to his pre-concussion form and will no doubt want to stick a few past Reis, especially since the Revolution goalkeeper has never even spoken to Eskandarian, much less apologized since the collision.
Both teams boast stingy defenses, with each only averaging about a goal a game against; so it seems likely that one goal will decide the match. Obviously, either team is capable of scoring in bunches, but the Revs and United actually match up very well with each other, making goals hard to come by.
It will be interesting to see if New England's Michael Parkhurst will have learned anything after having been schooled by Moreno on a highlight reel goal last year, where Moreno nutmegged the poor rookie on an exhilarating jaunt past three New England defenders before scoring easily. Also of interest will be to see how Freddy Adu fares against the daunting Joey Franchino. Adu has played exceedingly well of late, but physical defenders have been his bane, and Franchino's shin-kicker is among the most physical in the league.
However, United should have a clear edge with Eskandarian going against Jay Heaps. I've said it before and I'll say it again: Heaps is the worst right back in the league whenever Real Salt Lake isn't playing. Heaps is athletic, but he's got nowhere near enough skill to stay with Eskandarian, and it wouldn't surprise me to see Pesky Esky force Heaps into the mistake that wins the game for United.
There are some very interesting matchups going the other way. Bobby Boswell and Twellman should go at each other like Mastadons in a primordial swamp. Then, in the speed and guile department, either Bryan Namoff or Facundo Erpen will be asked to stay with the tricky Pat Noonan. Even Josh Gros legging it up and down the field with Steve Ralston will be fun to watch.
The wild card may well be in goal. This looks to be the right time for United to find a start for Nick Rimando. United will be finishing up their third game in eight days, so resting Troy Perkins is no big deal. Also, coming off a big win, it takes the sting out of Perkins' latest mistake in goal, so it shouldn't seem like a demotion. Now, nothing against Perkins, but Rimando just seems to have a knack for boosting the defense and coming up with a huge save at the right time. It's not like Rimando never makes a mistake either; no, he's been known to let in a howler from time to time, but it never seems to hurt the team, and he just seems to give the defense a jolt of confidence regardless.
So, while it's likely to be a close match, with United's current form and playing at home, it's hard to pick against DC in this one.
As for the rest of the league:
Dallas will burst the Columbus Crew's bubble as Sigi Schmid can't possibly put enough defenders out there to stop Carlos Ruiz for 90 minutes. Similarly, Houston will crush the LA Galaxy, as the Gals scoreless streak reaches a league record. In a battle of the befuddled, New York and Kansas City will both be looking for any kind of fluke to get them some points, so I think they will both get one. Only a gift of a penalty kept Real Salt Lake from losing to the Colorado Rapids, so Chicago will bounce back to beat those frauds easily, and Chivas USA won't win two in a row by losing to the Rapids at home.
1. DC United: Needed two wins to catch Dallas and did just that.
2. FC Dallas: Still setting the pace until someone can prove different.
3. Houston: Valiant comeback in New England and no losses likely with New York, Real Salt Lake, the LA Galaxy, and Chivas USA on the horizon in June.
4. Colorado: Hate to say it, but Clavijo and a weak West is proving me wrong.
5. Chicago: Only two losses in eight road games is amazing.
6. New England: Reeling lately, but too good to lose for long.
7. Kansas City: Same as New England.
8. Columbus: Defense only gets you so far, you gotta score too.
9. New York: Best of a bad lot at the bottom.
10. Real Salt Lake: Even a gift can't make them win.
11. Chivas USA: Only because the LA Galaxy are in a bad place right now.
12. LA Galaxy: Looks like Landon Donovan will get their next goal–in July.