Even in the midst of basically the best thing to happen to us as a fan base, ever, the 2013 MLS season carries on, and D.C. United has a game - at RFK Stadium - on Saturday night against the New England Revolution. And so we pause our breathless coverage of the Buzzard Point development to bring you this preview. As is our wont at B&RU, I exchanged a few questions with Steve Stoehr over at The Bent Musket, SB Nation's Revolution site. His answers to my questions are first up, and then my answers for him are below.
Questions for The Bent Musket
1. Didn't we just do this a few weeks ago? Any big changes or new developments with the Revs since D.C. came up I-95 for that scoreless draw on June 8 (and, of course, the U.S. Open Cup Beatdown in Boyds on June 26)?
Well, not really. The Revs haven't quite been able to get back into the groove of good form they were in before their first meeting with D.C., but in most other terms the team is the exact same. The squad's composition is the same, and barring some injuries, you'll see the same lineups.
The major difference is that Juan Agudelo probably won't be available thanks to his knee injury. His absence has been a key reason for the Revs' inconsistency in the past few weeks, and they will miss his ability up top. However, the physical prowess of Chad Barrett and/or Dimitry Imbongo should still prove a handful for the United defense.
2. It's kind of weird being in a position to be envious of a team that seems to run very hot-and-cold, but such is the life of a D.C. fan in 2013. The Revs seemed to be making a playoff push last time we met, but they currently sit two points outside the playoff positions (and have an extra game played over Houston, who sit in the final spot), and New England's form has been nothing if not erratic. July's schedule includes a home win, a home loss, a road loss and finally a road win. What gives? (Related: if Saturday night ends in another draw, do you get Bingo or something?)
I think the league is sort of catching up to the Revs, so to speak. They like to play a particular style, and it's not impossible to figure it out or beat it. What's been holding the Revs back is their lack of adaptability and maturity in key situations. You saw it against D.C. in that first match: United clogged the middle and forced the Revs to either attack the wings or go direct - the Revs did neither. They attempted repeatedly to play around the United defense and got nowhere. Granted, if Bill Hamid hadn't been so good on the night it might still have ended a 1-0 win, but what could have been a fairly dominant victory was instead a boring and frustrating draw.
This is something the Revs have struggled with since Heaps took over. This year, especially, they have the talent; it's about knowing your own tendencies and knowing when to go away from them. Lee Nguyen and Diego Fagundez both need to realize that teams have figured out some of their favorite moves and are using them against the Revs; the best players adapt and mix it up, and if they want to be known as the best players, they'd better get on it. A lot of that is down to coaching, as well, and this does appear to Heaps' Achilles heel. Hopefully he can figure out how to get this kind of mental toughness and flexibility out of his players before it's too late.
Losing Juan Agudelo has also also been rough on this team. It's tough to quantify, but his mix of speed, size, skill, and lethal finishing ability, coupled with his immediate understanding with guys like Fagundez and Sene, adds an extra dimension to the Revs' attack that's been missing since he hurt himself in the Open Cup loss to United.
3. Where did you find Jose Goncalves? Do you have any extras lying around we could try on?
He was hiding under a rock somewhere in central Europe, and no, we can't find you any others. Frankly, we're just thrilled the Revs actually made a good and useful defensive signing instead of pulling in another John Lozano or Didier Domi. I suppose, given the way United has flagrantly overpaid for mediocre-at-best defensive help, the Jose Goncalves situation is at least proof positive that it can get better. Just be patient.
Important absences: Injury reports aren't out yet, but Juan Agudelo will probably miss this game thanks to his knee issue. I haven't heard anything else beyond that.
Questions for B&RU
1. I'm not trying to be deliberately offensive here, but I think we can all agree that this year's edition of D.C. United is horrendous, yes? If that's the case, why on Earth have you guys been able to get a draw and a win off of the Revs in two meetings so far?
Oh, no offense taken. Mostly all I hear is stadiumstadiumstadium.
As to your question, I want to say hate? Hate and ritual sacrifice, maybe? Although our hate of the Jersey Metroscum is stronger, and that didn't do us much good in our second meeting with them, so I'm at a loss. In all seriousness, I think United's midfield has had a way of clogging things up and making games ugly, even against good teams, this year. These aren't Steve Nicol's Revs anymore, and you guys seem to have trouble battling against a physical central midfield - and with Perry Kitchen and John Thorrington in there, that's exactly what D.C. United have.
2. Oftentimes with any team that has a poor season, there's one particular area where they just couldn't seem to get anything right and it proved to be their downfall. In D.C.'s case, however, you have the worst offense and the second-worst defense in the league statistically. Even with all that going wrong, though, there have been bright spots - specifically, two wins and four draws. What went right in those matches that hasn't gone right in the other 14?
In those games, the defense went right. In at least two of the draws, it wasn't the defense, actually, so much as the goalkeeper - Bill Hamid was MLS Player of the Week in the third week of the year due to his headstanding performance in Jersey, and Joe Willis was nearly as impressive in keeping the clean sheet in this month's draw in Colorado. The wins were both choppy 1-0 affairs at RFK Stadium, where United finally managed to both create and convert a chance. Basically, the only things that have really gone right this year have been out at the Maryland SoccerPlex in Open Cup play.
3. Last time we did this little exchange for a regular-season match, you said that the improvement shown in the last two-thirds of the season will determine whether or not Ben Olsen keeps his job. Have you seen any improvement yet?
If you'd asked me a week ago, I'd have said yes, but Saturday's thrashing at the hands (feet?) of the Fire clearly makes me reconsider. I still think Olsen is safe through the duration of this season, but there have been so many new pieces brought in since the transfer window opened a couple weeks ago - and only one league match, which obviously didn't go so well for the Black-and-Red. I think whether and how those pieces integrate into the side will have a lot to do with Olsen's status come the winter. Luis Silva scored a Goal of the Week nominee of a goal in Chicago, and he looks pretty well set to play a big role going forward. Jared Jeffrey is an interesting prospect in central midfield, and we'll have to see whether he can push Thorrington for minutes alongside Kitchen. Up top, Conor Doyle is another young American, and he actually seems to fit what Olsen appears to want out of a target man: big, physical, good passing and an ability to, y'know, finish. He's only hear through the end of the year on a loan from Derby County in the English second division, so it could be interesting to see what happens if (if.) he does well between now and October.
4. Tell us which player you think D.C. fears most in a Revolution uniform for this match.
Clyde Simms? No, it's probably either Diego Fagundez or the two-headed monster of Kelyn Rowe and Lee Nguyen. Fagundez reminds a lot of us of Andy Najar for all the right reasons, and his attacking movements from the outside in can be hell to deal with, especially when you have flabbergasted defenders the way we do. Rowe and Nguyen, if they can shake the marking of Thorrington and Kitchen, could just pick United's back line apart like so many pieces of string cheese. Really, if either of them (Fagundez or the two-headed monster) gets going, there's not a lot of reason to think Revs fans who make it down for the game won't be driving back up I-95 with smiles on their faces.
5. Finally, let's have your projected starting XI and a scoreline prediction.
With Bill Hamid still with the USMNT and with Chris Pontius and Dwayne De Rosario still hindered somewhat by injuries and fitness concerns, I think we'll see the following 4-2-3-1: Joe Willis; Chris Korb, Dejan Jakovic, Ethan White, Taylor Kemp; Perry Kitchen, John Thorrington; Kyle Porter, Luis Silva, Nick DeLeon; Conor Doyle.
After the defensive fiasco we saw last week in Chicago, it's hard for me to pick anything but a loss here. But I didn't get into blogging because it was easy: Give me something new. Give me a scoring draw. Goals from DeLeon and Rowe leave things level after 90.
More from Black And Red United:
- D.C. United's Stadium Announcement--Is it Enough to Salvage 2013?
- Highlights from the D.C. United stadium term sheet signed by Vincent Gray and Jason Levien
- Photo Gallery: D.C. United + Mayor Vince Gray: Stadium Press Conference, July 25, 2013
- United Abroad: Alumni News & Notes for July 2013
- D.C. Council Member Tommy Wells talking Buzzard Point and D.C. United on Fox 5 this morning