DC has lost just once in their past nine games but they still trail the suddenly surging Revs by two points for the top spot in the East.
United is coming off another solid home win over perennial power Houston and have every right to be feeling good about themselves but they have haven’t established that same swagger on the road and face a Revs team who have suddenly found their offense and ridden two straight five goal wins to the top of the East.
On paper heading into the season the Revs, loaded with offensive talent, would have a scary offense and an probably an equally porous defense while DC, with the addition of solid veterans, would be the team to grind out the close games. Instead, DC started badly and had to live with some wildly high scoring wins and losses while NE couldn’t score, but was grinding out results. The tables have returned to form though except for the fact NE is still not giving up much despite their relatively weak defense on paper.
NE has won due to some fortuitous scheduling lately for sure, but the Revs began to turn it around by inserting second year defender Andrew Farrell into the central defense to plug some leaks and trun ties into wins, but perhaps the biggest key has been Hermann Trophy winning rookie Patrick Mullins playing the point forward in their hybrid 4-5-1 and . Since that has happened, NE has outscored opponents 12-4 with 3 straight wins.
DC, on the other hand has just simply reverted back to the norm for their players. Early on, veteran defenders were making uncharacteristic mistakes and dynamic attackers were anything but. Now, The defense has cut out most of the brutal gaffs. Fabian Espindola has put himself back on pace for his usual 10+ goals a year, Eddie Johnson has also recently found the net and he’s a consistent 12+ goals a year player. But perhaps the biggest key has been the emergence of Chris Rolfe as a pretty solid replacement for the expected production of the truly unfortunate Chris Pontius. With two goals and three assists in his last five games, Rolfe’s calming confidence and competence has been every bit as important as the fiery Espindola’s flamboyance.
It seems doubtful anyone on DC will need a rest despite the game Wednesday and with DC as healthy as they have been any time this year, I would be surprised if there is any changes to the starting lineup. Coach Ben Olsen should trot out EJ and Espy as forwards, although given the chemistry Rolfe displayed next to Espy and EJ’s somewhat petulant body language lately, there has to be a strong urge to sit EJ and play Rolfe up there. However, EJ is your money man and you can’t undercut him like as you will need him down the road, that plus Rolfe’s savvy bouys DC’s still shaky midfield. From there, it’s a no brainer that Lewis Neal, Perry Kitchen and Nick Deleon round out the midfield. Presumably, Sean Franklin is still battling a sore foot, but Chris Korb has been more than solid in the understudy role lately and should join Bobby Boswell, Jeff Parke and Christian Fernandez in front of the Bill Hamid in goal.
NE is almost certainly going to play the same lineup that has been hanging fives on people lately. Former Terp National champion Mullins as the “lone” forward supported by Teal Bunbury, Diego Fagundez and Lee Nguyen in the attack and backed by Andy Dorman and Diago Kobyashi in central midfield. Possibly Kelyn Rowe is ready for the field and he covers much more ground and is the more offensive weapon than Kobyashi, but The Japanese midfielder has been a calming influence so that’s a tossup. Defensively, Chris Tierney, AJ Soares, Farrell, and Darrius Barnes or Kevin Alston have been rock solid in front of Bobby Shuttleworth or Brad Knighton if Shuttlecock is still not back from a concussion.
So, looking at the matchups, nobody has the advantage as this one could go either way barring flukes or bad calls or bad breaks which do seem to happen quite often in this very bitter rivalry going back to the birth of the league. EJ and Espy might well have their speed, strength and guile negated by the equally strong and underrated play of Soares and Farrell. Tierney and Barnes are underrated too and will make Rolfe and Deleon earn their chances especially as Neal is unlikely to be much help. Defensively DC will have their hands full, NE has weapons all over and in fact has gotten goals from practically half their roster. They spread the goals around and attack from all angles switching positions freely all across their attacking line. Perry Kitchen and Boswell and Parke will be the keys for DC. If DC’s central defense can prevent the slippery Mullins from getting much of the ball to lay off to Bunbury and Fagundez allowing them to inflict misery on Fernandez and Korb; and if Kitchen can shut down NE’s most consistent attacker Nguyen, then NE will struggle to score, if not it could be a blood bath.
On paper, both teams have the ability to shut down the other, but it will shut down their own offense as well, so a 1-0 win either way seems likely. However, if there’s an early goal or a bad call or a couple red cards, all possible scenarios in this sometimes crazy series, then either team could win or lose a 5-4 thriller or a 4-0 blowout. Too tough to handicap this one.
Obviously current form is meaningless as both are going well. History isn’t much help either as DC holds the all time edge at 29-25-5, but is 10-16-5 in Boston. However, recently DC hasn’t won in NE in a coon’s age so that’s even less a help. DC did pull off the Massachusetts Miracle up there back in 2003 when legends Marco and Alecko came off the bench to spark 3 goals in the last 7 minutes, with two of those goals deep in stoppage time, to win 4-2 after playing ugly and trailing for 83 minutes, and this current situation does bring to mind that wild game.
So buckle up. Anything could happen in this one.