The dog days of summer are upon DC and New England as United is coming off two straight league losses for the first time all year and the Revolution managed their first win in six weeks last weekend.
However, while DC has not looked good in MLS play of late, they did manage a rousing win in the Open Cup while NE got booted from that tournament embarrassingly by a USL side, and both matches will likely have an effect on the league match tomorrow in RFK. DC needed overtime to advance and almost certainly the players who played a big chunk of those 120 minutes won’t be available or will be affected if they do play in this match, and while NE only played 90, they did have three potential starters play the whole match. DC’s win also puts United in another difficult scheduling run with tomorrow’s game now being the third match of a stretch of seven games in twenty days, and the only match in RFK in the whole stretch. Even worse, with Sunday match tomorrow and ending with a Friday match in Seattle, DC faces an absurd 5 matches in 12 days with trips to Chicago and Toronto before a bus ride to Philly and ending with a cross country flight. Clearly roster management will be key going forward.
So, with that in mind, I fully expect all the guys who played the majority of the match in Pittsburgh; Markus Halsti, Kofi Opare, Jairo Arrieta, Conor Doyle and Miguel Aguilar, won’t start or play much tomorrow, which could very well present a problem tactically against NE. But Revolution coach Jay Heaps will have a tactical problem of his own as two of his starting wingers, Kelyn Rowe and Diego Fagundez who have essentially been splitting time at left wing lately, as well as defender London Woodberry, went the distance in the Charlotte loss and NE’s schedule going forward isn’t easy either with them being in the second game of five games in fourteen days, although they don’t have the Open Cup to worry about any more.
With all that in mind, I think Olsen will pull the trigger and start Fabian Espindola and Luis Silva, last year’s team leading goal scorers, together for the first time this season as both have been injured or suspended for most of the year. In midfield it’s virtually a lock that Chris Rolfe, Davy Arnaud, Perry Kitchen and Nick DeLeon will start going left to right, but the defensive line will be interesting given Sean Franklin being out with a twisted ankle as well as Halsti, Opare possibly out, and the tactical situation. Normally, you’d think Chris Korb would play for Franklin and Taylor Kemp on the left with Bobby Boswell and Steve Birnbaum centrally. However, NE’s Teal Bunbury is likely to start on their right wing and he terrorized DC even when NE was down to nine men in DC’s miracle 1-1 draw last time these two teams met. It was obvious neither Korb nor later Kemp could contain him. Olsen could hope Kemp or Korb will do a better job this time around or he could ask Opare to suck it up and play centrally allowing Birnbaum to play left, but whatever he does has to be with keeping Bunbury from running wild in mind.
I think Heaps solves his problem by starting Fagundez, who is coming off a goal of the week last week, and Woodberry and just taking it for granted that the youngsters can recover easily enough to play tomorrow. So it seems pretty likely Heaps sends out Charlie Davies as his lone forward with Fagundez and Bunbury on the left and right wings respectively and Lee Nguyen as the playmaker underneath. Then Scott Caldwell and Andy Dorman, who replaces the injured Jermaine Jones rounding out the midfield. Chris Tierney, Jose Goncalves, Andrew Farrell, and Woodberry across the backline from left to right in front of Bobby Shuttleworth in goal.
Looking at the matchups and tactics, DC could well be a bit of trouble. NE plays more of a 4-3-3 considering the way Bunbury and Fagundez play so high and it totally flummoxed DC up in NE last time these two teams met. If it hadn’t been for Tierney and Nguyen getting somewhat bone headed red cards, NE might well have won that game going away. The way NE attack down the outsides and the way DC defends clogging the middle and often leaving the outside backs with little help outside of Rolfe who defends his side very well, United is prone to being pulled apart. Considering the way Davies is splitting defenders lately if DC’s central pairing gets pulled apart, it could be a bloodbath. However, DC can flip this on them and attack down the wings themselves hoping to force Bunbury and Fagundez or Rowe back on defense but that would require big games from Rolfe and DeLeon. Also, DC’s biggest strength offensively is the play of Espindola pouncing on mistakes or opening room for others and while Espy will no doubt bring it tomorrow, Silva has been terrible of late. Rolfe and DeLeon have been very quiet as well. All four of those guys have to have good games or DC will need some luck to win.
I expect DC to get a goal from a NE mistake as that has been their Achilles heel lately. The Revolution are giving up almost as many goals as they score despite Shuttleworth being lights out so far this year and I don’t see them keeping Espindola or Rolfe from poaching at least one. The rub will be keeping Davies, Bunbury and Fagundez from combining for more than one. I don’t see Nguyen doing much in this game given the wall he will face from Arnaud and Kitchen, but NE’s three attackers will be a handful. If Hamid plays, he might be the difference as he has been the last two years, but as good as Dykstra has been, he isn’t Hamid and I don’t see him pitching a shutout on NE.
At least the intangibles favor DC for the most part. DC is coming off two losses in a row including their last home match while NE won their last outing, but NE won in Foxboro and has been terrible on the road this year and DC’s loss was their first one at home in a year. DC is 5-1-3 in RFK this year and NE is 2-4-1 on the road, losing their last two on the trot and having given up 14 goals in their seven road games, 8 of those in their last 3 road matches. DC also holds the edge against NE in RFK all-time with a 19-9-4 edge since 1996, winning the last two in RFK and 4 of the last 5. In one of the oldest rivalries in MLS, DC holds the all-time edge at 29-26-10 over the years.
So there you go, this one is too close to call. DC hasn’t lost three in a row in over a year and hasn’t even lost two in a row at home in almost two years, but NE holds a lot of the tactical cards and matchups too. However, they stink on the road spilling goals like a leaky paint bucket, and DC seems to get all the luck they need at home outside of a brilliant performance by Giovinco. I expect this one to be close one way or the other. Assuming the soccer gods keep their mitts off the game, I expect both teams to get a goal at least, but who gets two or three is down to which team makes the mistakes on defense. DC has been good at not making mistakes in general, but NE is too good a team to keep playing so poorly on the road. Might be a draw is justice in this one.