If it feels like we just played the New England Revolution, it's because we did. Unlike that league match, though, tonight there can be no draw. D.C. United host the Revs in U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal play tonight, and the winner will travel to Chicago or Orlando for a shot at a Cup final. To gear up for the match-up in Boyds, I exchanged a few questions with my counterpart at SB Nation's top-class Revolution site, Steve Stoehr of The Bent Musket.
Questions for The Bent Musket
1. How have the Revs responded to the last meeting between our two clubs, that scoreless draw a couple weeks back?
Not particularly well, though there have been some extenuating circumstances. The very next match was a comprehensive 4-2 victory over New York in the Open Cup, which was nice. However, they followed that up with a 4-3 capitulation to Vancouver that really showed just how far this team has to go mentally before it can challenge for an MLS Cup. Going a man down on the road is never a good thing, but giving up two incredibly soft goals - and that after losing only your right-back, who was replaced by a defender - and playing one of the worst 20-minute sequences of soccer in your entire season is no way to respond to adversity.
The encouraging sign from that game was that the Revs were absolutely dominant when it was 11 vs. 11, and in the second half they actually came within a hair's breadth of earning a point. If not for Farrell's red card, New England could easily have won that game by about six goals. I guess you could say that the overall response since the D.C. match has been a demonstration of youth; they didn't have the maturity to adjust tactically and circumvent United's game plan, and they demonstrated immaturity and inexperience against the Whitecaps when they went down a man. That said, there's also been a demonstration of offense, by way of seven goals in two games.
2. Last time we met, you tipped the New England defense as a big part of the reason they were climbing the standings - and for good reason: the Revolution had the lowest goals against in the league. But I'm seeing six goals conceded in the last two games; is this a trend that United might be able to capitalize on, or were those 2- and 4-goal efforts just flukes?
It's difficult to say, but I'd have to consider them flukes. You have to take the entire Whitecaps match with a grain of salt. One goal was a penalty, one goal was just flat-out spectacular, and two goals were conceded with the Revs completely out of sorts after going a man down. The only way that match becomes instructive is if New England somehow ends up with another dismissal in this Open Cup match.
The New York match might be a little more helpful for D.C., since that was also an Open Cup game and you'll likely see a lot of the same personnel on Wednesday that you saw in that match. However, comparing D.C.'s attack to New York's attack - and I mean no personal offense when I say this - is laughable. Not to mention New York's goals were entirely down to mistakes, really by one single player, that are not likely to be repeated. I'm not going to sit here and tell you that the Revs' potential Open Cup back line is as rock-solid as the unit they send out in regular season matches, but it's still a good group, and you'll still have trouble.
3. With a semifinal berth on the line and the Revs also improving in the league, how will Jay Heaps approach the midweek Open Cup match? Think he'll play a first-choice XI, or will he try to balance things and keep his side fresh for the weekend trip out to California?
He's going to strike a balance, for sure. The competing considerations here are the fact that the Revs are coming off a week-long break, but also need to turn around and fly out to Los Angeles to take on Chivas at the weekend. The injury report is luckily pretty light, and with Andrew Farrell slated to miss the Chivas match due to his red card suspension, a the team's first-choice right back should be available, too. Heaps has put together a pretty winning formula of first-team players and bench contributors who have made up an effective starting group in the last two Cup matches, and I don't see him changing things up just yet.
The wild card is Kelyn Rowe. He's apparently worked his way back into the starting lineup for league matches, but he's also the outstanding player in the Open Cup so far this year with his four goals and one assist in two matches. I can't see Jay benching him, especially with Juan Toja still dealing with back issues, but his minutes will have to be managed carefully ahead of the weekend trip.
It's nearly impossible to predict, but expect to see something sort of like this: Matt Reis; Tyler Polak, A.J. Soares, Darrius Barnes, Andrew Farrell; Clyde Simms; Chad Barrett, Kelyn Rowe, Andy Dorman, Ryan Guy; Dimitry Imbongo
That's very imprecise. Kalifa Cisse could reprise his usual Open Cup role instead of Simms, but I expect to see Clyde because he's recently returned from injury. Saer Sene could feature, but he's starting again in the league, so I'm not sure if Jay will risk him. Chris Tierney could start over Polak, because while Heaps has shown faith in both Tyler Polak and Gabe Latigue during this tournament, this is the quarterfinals; a shot at some silverware is suddenly looking like a lot more of a possibility.
So, yeah, could be just about anything at this point.
Questions for B&RU
1. Is that a league win I spy on the list of results from last weekend? I dare to ask - how did it feel to beat San Jose? Do you think that performance will spark a little resurgence, or at least a fight for respectability out of what has become a pretty dire season?
You remember that joy you had when you were a child, eating pizza from that out-of-town place you only got to visit every year or so? Winning for the first time in 105 days felt something like eating that pizza. Every bit as delicious as you remember, and you just hope you get to taste it again before you go home - or that they open a restaurant back in your hometown so you don't have to wait another forever to have it again. Now that I've stretched the metaphor to its breaking point... I can't say whether it will spark a resurgence in the team's league performance, but it should give United a much needed boost of confidence heading into the Cup quarterfinals. At this point, even with more than half of the season to play, D.C. are out of playoff contention, so this trophy is the only thing left to play for, so every little bit helps. The rest of the league campaign will be about building a roster and a platform to develop from next year.
2. Your last Open Cup outing was a 3-1 spanking of high-flying Philadelphia. Talk to us a little bit about that win. What was United's game plan, how well was it executed, and do you think the Union were putting in a full or near-full effort in that match?
D.C. looked to get after Philly in that game. The midfield pressed a bit higher up the field, and United looked to get into the attack quickly. The fact they were able to do it was the big departure from the season to that point. Mostly, though, it was DeRo actually looking like DeRo for the first time in 2013. Dwayne De Rosario scored all three goals in the game, playing a very strong game on both sides of the ball - in fact, turnovers in the Union half directly led to two of his three goals. Even if they didn't look particularly engaged on the night, the Union did put out a mostly first-choice side, and D.C. finally put together a competent attacking performance. They did the same thing for the first hour against San Jose over the weekend, so maybe the team has figured something out, after all.
3. With the playoffs a non-factor for you guys going forward, are you expecting Ben Olsen to put all his eggs in the Open Cup basket and start fielding first-choice elevens, starting on Wednesday? Feel free to predict the lineup while you're at it.
Absolutely. Olsen hasn't been shy about saying that the top priority for the rest of the season is this tournament. De Rosario was rested in last weekend's win against San Jose - and I'm sure you know how DeRo loves playing against his former teams, so it is somewhat of a deal there - specifically so that he'd be 100% for the Open Cup game against New England. The one change from the First XI, other than for injury, should be Joe Willis in goal, as Ben Olsen seems to have named him the Cup 'keeper (a move I agree with to help the talented backup's development). The rest of the roster: (4-2-3-1, R-to-L) Chris Korb, Conor Shanosky, Daniel Woolard, Alain Rochat; John Thorrington, Perry Kitchen; Nick DeLeon, Dwayne De Rosario, Chris Pontius; Carlos Ruiz.
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Big thanks to Steve and everybody over at The Bent Musket. Look for our live thread later this afternoon, and in the meantime, be sure to check out everything else in our hub for the USOC quarterfinal match-up between our boys in black and the invaders from New England.