DC United returns to RFK looking to get back to their winning ways, and appears to have caught a break in facing a depleted Revolution riddled with injuries. But the Revs, as they always do, have found a way to remain undefeated despite their troubles and have had a week off to lick their wounds and regroup for their assault on RFK tomorrow night.
Granted the Fire lead the East for the moment, but given the Friday night match, the winner of the DC-NE match, if there is one, will have at least a share of the Eastern Conference lead for at least 24 hours until the Fire play on Saturday. The full three points for DC would give them a share of the lead for the first time since they won the Shield in 2007, so obviously there’s a big incentive for United to regain their rightful place in the universe after the past year in purgatory.
But, the pesky Revs stand in United’s way and no matter how banged up they are, Nicol always manages to bunker in and steal a point. Plus, while the Revs injury list is long and distinguished, their most important player Steve Ralston has just made his way back into the lineup and that’s not good news for DC as he allows Nicol to play his preferred 3-5-2 as well as make NE’s attack dramatically more dynamic.
United on the other hand, is about as healthy as they have ever been with only Wicks and Janicki unlikely to play (and Warf wouldn’t have got the start anyway). So, it will be interesting to see who Soehn starts and how he lines them up. I seriously doubt he reverts to the 4-4-2, but that is a good strategy against NE in particular. However, with Janicki still recovering from a concussion, Soehn would have to turn to McTavish, who didn’t have a very good return to the field in RSL, or move Burch inside where he’s played horrendously in the past, or play a newby like Peters in order to fill out that formation.
So, that in mind, it seems likely DC remains with the 3-5-2 and the same defenders in the back that played against RSL. Burch had a bit of a howler and failed to make plays on both of RSL’s goals, even though others were actually at fault, so Tommy might be tempted to replace him in the back, but I doubt it. Burch has his faults mostly due to not being a natural defender, but he’s progressing well enough and shouldn’t get the boot just yet. Jakovic too had some horrendous defending moments, but none of them actually hurt the team, and the Boy Scout cleaned up his own messes almost every time, so he almost certainly avoids the axe too.
The forwards should also stay the same. Emilio obviously is off to his hottest start in MLS ever, and Pontius has done nothing but continue to impress. Plus, he actually partners extremely well with Emilio. It’s been a while since United’s had two forwards actually look regularly to set each other up, but Pontius did just that on United’s lone goal last week, and no one lately, including Moreno, has proven as good at linking up with Emilio, who can be an erratic character for his strike partner to figure out.
But, the midfield was overall dreadful against RSL and will almost certainly see some changes. Obviously, Benny should come back in as the team desperately needs his tackling and feistiness especially playing against a brutally physical NE side. Also, it should be time for Santino to get a start on the outside. Rodney Wallace has done exceptionally well overall, but he looked terrible in RSL, and it is crucial that United gets very good wide play to have any chance at breaking down the Revs.
Santino scored his first two goal game against the Revs as a 16 year old, so you’ve got to like his chances now that he’s older and wiser, as well itching to get out there and take his job back. It’s not really a benching for Wallace either as it could easily be called a tactical decision, or just a veteran winning back his job from the youngster. Plus, he will almost surely play for Fred or Quaranta when one of them comes out in the second half. The rookie lost his touch and his concentration way too much in RSL, and might just need a break and lesser minutes to regain his momentum.
So, that leaves Fred on the other side, who was very dynamic in RSL, as well as Gomez and Simms in the middle, both of whom don’t really have any decent replacement on the roster, so they are safe for now. But they are in need of a kick in the pants if they are to remain fixtures in the starting XI. Hopefully Simms will have been told in no uncertain terms that he better start slinging around some punishment if he wants to keep his job. In this match, he simply has to be inside Ralston’s shirt to negate their biggest weapon with Twellman out of the match, or DC could be in trouble.
Then there’s Gomez, who has been flying under the radar a bit and really needs to impact games more, especially his free kicks which seriously need to improve. But, it has that feeling that he has just been a little off key with the team, slightly out of tune. Not really playing badly, just not getting the ball in good spots and not really linking up with others that well either. Still, he seems like everything is almost falling into place, and he’s poised to have a breakout game. I can’t think of a better time than at home against an Eastern rival likely missing the beast, Larentowicz, as well with United having the full starting midfield for the first time this year, to show he’s really back in black.
So, given the almost certain fact that the midfield will be jammed up with upwards of ten bodies, this is likely to shape up as a usual tight physical battle with a lot of counter-attacking over the top by NE and down the wings by DC. So, DC does have the advantage overall. If Findley and Movsisyan barely caused a ripple of trouble in RSL when the team was not really playing that well, then Dube and Mansally should be no trouble at all.
Going the other way, Santino and Fred should easily outplay Wells Thompson and Sainey Nyassi or they should turn in their shin-pads. Thompson is terrible and really should be coaching high school ball somewhere. Nyassi is nothing but speed coupled with no skill and a propensity for appalling dives. Certainly neither of them are frightening offensively, as they are pretty much were NE’s offense goes to die. Nor are they all that good defensively, although Thompson will try to get in the way kind of similar to the way a fat beagle guards the homestead. An attacker might twist an ankle tripping over his prone body.
The central midfield will be a steel cage death match, but assuming Larentowicz is out, DC does have an edge as Phelan is no where near as good as the ginger assassin. And while Joseph and Ralston are a handful, Gomez, Olsen, and Simms really should be able to outplay them, assuming DC has found their stud sharpeners. If they lay off and play soft like they have much of this year (aside from Olsen), then DC could be in trouble as Ralston will pick you apart and Raggedy Andy will steamroll you if you give them room.
Obviously, Emilio and Pontius (and Moreno coming off the bench) should easily have the edge over NE’s defense. Reis will be out, my feelings on Heaps’ abilities are well known, and Albright and the rookie Barnes don’t make things much better. Seriously, Emilio is on a tear right now and he scores in streaks, I can’t imagine NE will shut him out, but even if they do, Gomez, Quaranta, Fred, etc. DC has plenty of weapons to expose them, and if DC continues to score first as they have every game this year, that should open up NE for even more goals later on.
Even the intangibles favor DC overwhelmingly. United is 16-6-3 against NE at RFK. The Revs haven’t won a regular season match here since 2006 and Twellman, who scores against DC like a slot machine, won’t be playing. NE is reeling with injuries and their bench players aren’t that good despite their record. Nicol has been doing it with smoke and mirrors against weak teams. They barely scraped by Dallas and SJ, who stink, and tied NY, who might be even worse. This is the week they get found out. I’m sure of it.
So, that said, put your money on NE as my endorsements of DC tend to be the kiss of death.
Speaking of the kiss of death, I’m postponing my Vegas trip after the beating I took this past week around the rest of the league. Obviously, DC failed me again. (Come on, 10 minutes from the tie for gosh sakes! Is that so much to ask?). Then Dallas also picked this week to show some spine and pulled off a point in Toronto. I should also have stayed bullish on the Crew as they failed to take all the points at home to Colorado.
Then Houston and Chivas got hosed (Weyland is the worst ref in the history of the game!) and failed to beat NY and LA respectively. KC did shock Seattle with a goal alright, but it was the winner instead of the consolation, so I crapped out there too. My one lonely correct pick was the Fire pulling off the tie in SJ. This brutal 1-6 week also drops me 14-15 overall, but I’m making it 15-15 as I actually picked Seattle to beat NY in the season opener, but my picks were published after that game was played. Hey, throw me a bone! This was a tough week!
Oh well, once more into the breach. This week’s apparently blind stabs:
DC will beat NE 2-0 as Gomez joins Emilio on the scoresheet.
RSL will beat NY for the first time 1-0 as the Mortician gets his first goal.
The Fire will barbeque KC 2-1 McBride and Blanco edge out Lopez
SJ and LA will tie 2-2 Donovan with a brace and Huckerby finally getting off the shneid.
Chivas will roll Seattle, without Keller and suddenly facing adversity for the first time, 2-0 Lillingston and Alecko.
Houston finally finds its offense and Colorado reverts to it’s historical anemic road form, losing 1-0 Ching with the winner.
Toronto snatches a point back from Dallas in the return match 1-1 DeRosario and VdB with the goals.