DC United will look to catapult themselves into the Eastern Conference lead as well as keep their four match home winning streak going with the full three points over long time arch enemy, the New England Revolution when they visit RFK tomorrow night.
A win would also cement United at the top of the Eastern Conference well into June which would be the first time United has held the Conference lead this late in the season since 2007 when they won the Supporter’s Shield. Unfortunately, United is still nursing quite a few injuries and hasn’t beaten NE in RFK since the last game of the 2008 season when Francis Doe scored a brace.
With regular starters, Robbie Russell, Nick DeLeon, Chris Pontius, and Danny Cruz all out with hamstring strains or in the case of Pontius, a sore butt, it’s obvious DC coach Ben Olsen will have to juggle his lineup yet again. However, with Canadian central defender Dejan Jakovic back from injury the defense should be in good shape, and the offense has suddenly found some decent depth with the emergence of DC’s designated player duo of Branko Boskovic and Hamdi Salihi. In addition, the surprising wing play of Englishman Lewis Neal as well as the resurrection of Honduran Andy Najar has eased the loss of DeLeon and now Cruz.
The only move of interest will be if Olsen tries another experiment with Boskovic on the wing and starting Josh Wolff again alongside Salihi or if he will finally allow all his highest paid players to play their best positions by giving the keys to the midfield to Boskovic and pushing DeRo up to forward. Olsen has been loathe to do that so far this year, but if he does pull the trigger on that move and it works as it did against Colorado and in the second half against Toronto, DC will become a ridiculously explosive offensive team that should be able to score on anyone.
If he does make that move, DC’s lineup should look like this: DeRo and Salihi at forward; Neal, Bosko, Perry Kitchen, and Najar in midfield from left to right; and Daniel Woolard, Brandon McDonald, Jakovic, and Chris Korb along the backline from left to right in front of Bill Hamid.
NE, on the other hand is pretty much healthy with only former DC midfielder Clyde Simms out with tendinitis and attacker Lee Nguyen listed as probable with a sore shoulder. The Revs have been pretty explosive themselves of late with 9 goals in their last 4 games after only 5 goals in their first 7 games now that they’ve worked themselves into Jay Heaps’ refreshingly attacking posture. However, their defense is still their Achilles heel as it was when DC beat them 2-1in NE in April.
I think Nguyen plays and therefore it’s almost certain Heaps will go with the same lineup that tied Houston 2-2 a week ago. Frenchman Saer Sene, who has 3 goals in NE’s last two games, and former DC striker, Blake Brettschneider at forward. In midfield, Heaps will send out Nguyen, Shalrie Joseph, Ryan Guy, Benny Feilhaber from left to right. Across the backline should be Chris Tierney, Stephen McCarthy, A.J. Soares, and Kevin Alston in front of Uncle Fester in the nets.
So, looking at the matchups, DC should be in fine shape. Offensively, DeRo and Salihi will easily befuddle the stork McCarthy and the capable, but unspectacular Soares. Neal against Alston is probably a net loss, but as long as he pins Alston back, DC is in good shape and assuming Najar has gotten it drilled into his brain to stay wide and get deep, the under-rated Tierney will be in deep trouble on the right side, especially as Najar will be itching to show he wants to reclaim his starting spot he lost to Cruz.
The wild card will be Boskovic in the center. Guy was less than convincing playing defensive midfield and arguably cost NE two points against Houston, so if Boskovic outplays him so thoroughly that Joseph is forced to stay back to help, then NE is in very deep trouble. Plus, Boskovic’s free kicks have been the best since Christian Gomez was swinging ball into the area. If NE gives up a lot of fouls deep, Bosko will punish them.
Defensively, things are not quite so rosy, but still well enough in DC’s favor. Obviously, Sene is a handful, but Brettschneider should not be too much trouble for his former team mates. So as long as Woolard plays his usual solid game and keeps Feilhaber under control that might be enough to sway the advantage Nguyen has over Korb. I expect NE to get a goal or two, but DC should get a lot more than that.
All of which is good for DC because the karma has been against United when the Revs come to town lately. DC was shutout the last two years by NE in RFK, and it took a stoppage time goal from Ben Olsen to avoid being shutout and pull off a draw with NE in 2009. DC was even knocked from the Open Cup by the Revs last year at home in the game that cost Boskovic his season with a knee injury. So, while DC holds a comfortable edge over NE overall in RFK at 16-8-4, none of that success has been seen lately.
Current trends are much more promising, though. DC has only lost twice in the past 12 games and has currently won 3 out of the last 4 including the last two in a row. DC is also a very healthy 5-1-2 at home and unbeaten in RFK since the opener when it took a stoppage time goal for KC to squeak past United. Plus, DC has been just crushing teams here with 12 goals in their last 4 homes games, all wins. NE on the other hand, is 1-5 on the road including 0-3 with only one goal in their last three road matches since their shocking (then) win in LA.
So there you have it. The book shows DC a comfortable winner. Fate has been fickle of late, but then again this is the year DC seems to have decided to restore the order of the universe. DC is finding its way back to the top of the East and seems like it might be able to stay there. United has a couple two game win streaks in the past month after not getting back to back wins in almost 3 years. In fact, beating NE would give them their first 3 game winning streak since June 2008 when Gallardo was patrolling DC’s midfield and they won 4 in a row that magical June before the bottom fell out on that poor season.
But more importantly, DC has taken back RFK and is winning in front of their long suffering fans who have witnessed a mere 7 wins combined in RFK the past two seasons. Beating NE would see them almost equal that total in the first half of this season.