Fresh off a resounding season opening win, a rejuvenated DC United heads to New England to take on a battered, but effective Revolution side making their home debut in Gillette Stadium.
One thing is for certain in the way Ben Olsen has decided to bury DC’s dismal memories of the past few seasons, he’s injected speed and hard work into a team that has relied on aging or mercenary talent for far too long.
So, it will be interesting to see how this match plays out in front of hundreds braving the bitter cold in the Razor. DC is obviously looking to build on their opening game success, and Ben Olsen is no doubt looking to get some revenge after losing in NE in his coaching debut for DC last year. While NE on the other hand is dealing with their usual raft of early season injuries, but will have the hometown gaggle behind them as well as playing their usual brand of Nicolball, looking for the early Joseph goal and shutting down any attempts at actual soccer playing for the rest of the evening.
DC does have some absences that might be of concern, however. Rookie Perry Kitchen is off with the U-20’s, and right back Jed Zayner is a bit banged up and unlikely to play. In their place, it seems likely Olsen turns to Uruguayan signing, Rodrigo Brasesco to pair with Dejan Jakovic in central defense, while rookie Chris Korb seems likely to play the right side of defense with Devon McTavish still out with concussion symptoms.
Plus, Olsen simply has to reward the starter’s that got the ball rolling in turning around United’s fortunes. Josh Wolff had an amazing match and scored the opening goal for DC, while Joseph Ngwenya harried the Crew’s defenders, and danced along the back line keeping them honest all game long. Both earned their jobs well enough until someone comes along to take them away.
The Revs, on the other hand, might look quite a bit different than the team that stole a point in LA in their season opener. Marko Perovic, who set up NE’s early goal, seems unlikely to play after being injured in that game, and they lose his replacement, Gambian Kenny Mansally, who scored two heartbreaking goals in their win over DC in United’s home opener last year, to international duty.
Also, possibly returning to the lineup for the Revs will be Serb forward Illja Stolica as well as right back Kevin Alston, and maybe French defender Didier Domi, which would send Zack Shillawski and Darrius Barnes to the bench, while likely moving Chris Tierney to midfield.
So, it seems likely Nicol goes with his tried and true 4-4-2 and trots out Stolica and Zak Boggs at forward, Sainey Nyassi, Shalrie Joseph, Pat Phelan, and Chris Tierney in midfield going right to left. In defense, either Barnes or Alston at right back, then young Argentine Franco Coria and rookie A.J. Soares, both of whom Nicol raved about after the LA match, in central defense with the Domi taking the left back spot. Of course the assassin, Reis will be in goal.
United almost certainly will go with Wolff and Ngwenya at forward; Andy Najar, Dax McCarty, and Chris Pontius across the midfield; and Korb, Jakovic, Bresesco, and Marc Burch going right to left across the backline. Onstad in goal.
All of which means, DC should have some serious tactical and speed advantages in this match if Nicol’s thugs are off their game by even the slightest margin.
Starting in the attack for DC, Wolff and Ngwenya are fast and savvy enough to cause real problems for newcomers Coria and Soares. This won’t be like facing Magee and Barrett last week. If Wolff and Ngwenya replicate their efforts from last week, they will get chances for certain. Also, you’ve got to like Najar going against the creaky Frenchman on that right side. True, Pontius against Alston or Barnes is less enthusiastic even with Alston recently back from his semi-annual hamstring pull. Plus, McCarty and Simms would need to be just about perfect to outplay all-world Joseph and feisty Phelan (who scored the winning goal in Olsen’s coaching debut loss last year, btw). But, overall DC does have some tempting matchups going forward.
Defensively, things are not too frightening for DC either. Stolica is a big stiff who has pretty much disappointed since his arrival, and while Boggs is fast and has shown flashes of serious ability, neither should trouble Jakovic and Breseco too much as long as Joseph is kept honest in the middle of the field and not let drift too far forward. Nyassi too is fast, but incredibly inconsistent and a whiner to boot, so Burch should have a slight edge there. Tierney is exceedingly under-rated and the rookie Korb might have his hands full, but that’s about it on NE’s side of the ledger as long as everyone else does their job.
Now, looking at the recent trends is obviously not so promising. DC hasn’t won in NE since 2007, when Josh Gros scored the winner 22 minutes into the match, and hasn’t beaten NE at all since the last game of 2008, when Francis Doe got an improbable brace in RFK. In fact, after getting swept and shutout twice by NE last year, Olsen got the last second goal the last time DC even got a point against their hated Eastern conference rival back in 2009. So, it’s been tough sledding at 0-3-1 for DC in NE since those back to back Shields won in ’06 and ’07.
Interestingly Fred has two of the only four goals scored by DC in the Razor since 2007, and since he was pretty much traded back to DC by NE this pre-season for a bag of balls, he might seriously be by a wild card in this match coming off the bench with Charlie Davies in the second half if the game is undecided at that point.
As always, playing a Nicol coached team is a junkyard brawl and anything can happen no matter what the tactics or strategy, or even the level of talent on the field. NE can win handily with 10 stiffs surrounding Shalrie Joseph, or they can lose pitifully with a full roster. Even the match being their home opener is not that conclusive, NE can win big like they did last year trouncing TFC behind Shillawski’s improbable hat trick, or they can get dropped like a sack of dirt in one of their usual slow starts to the season.
Bottom line, DC has the edge in talent and tactics, but not by much. NE has the edge in history and utterly effective grinding anti-soccer efficiency, but has is clearly on the down side of that form. Perhaps a tie does justice to both sides in this one.