It seems terribly cruel that Major League Soccer is actually making D.C. United play a match tomorrow. As if we haven't already suffered enough this week? Shouldn't there be some kind of appropriate mourning period for a league MVP?
Still, the show must go on I guess, with or without Dwayne De Rosario. And so United will host the New England Revolution for the third time this season. We traded questions with SB Nation's Revs blog The Bent Musket to find out what to expect from a constantly changing Revolution team.
B&RU: The Revolution recently added Juan Toja. Was this just a matter of the Revolution taking advantage of their probable last chance to use their spot in the allocation order, or does Toja truly fit in on this team? Will we see him on the field Saturday night?
tBM: I think Toja is a mix of both, really. On the one hand, I think the Revs knew that they weren't going to get another shot at using that top allocation order spot, and given how poorly the season has gone, leaving that on the shelf would be met with a lot of objection here in New England. If you have the tools, you may as well use them. On the other hand, it was probably an easy decision to make for the Revs. Toja is a talent who has proven he can hack it and excel in MLS, with a great mix of size, speed, technique, and flair. A team with Juan Toja is generally going to be better than a team without him. Furthermore, the trade possibilities - and a few offers were juggled, apparently - made Toja too good to pass up.
As far as seeing him on the field Saturday goes...that depends. He is available, but the word out of the training grounds seems to be one of caution in terms of his match fitness. If you do see him, it will probably be as a late-game substitute.
B&RU: Hey, thanks for your help last week, by the way. The Revs' win over Columbus definitely helped improve United's playoff chances. What are you taking away from that win? Will New England's newfound success continue in the near future, or was that just a brief departure before starting another winless streak?
tBM: Man, it could go either way. I think the offense has definitely started to figure it out again in the last few weeks, which is encouraging, but the defense has become woefully consistent again, and that's discouraging. However, what I did get from the match was that this team has a little bit of confidence again. That swagger that the Revs had earlier in the season is making a bit of a comeback, and that's never going to be a bad thing.
Also, Dimitry Imbongo. Great performance from the striker, he really opened some eyes.
B&RU: The always exciting Saer Sene was leading the team with 11 goals before his untimely injury. That's more than double any other player on the Revolution. With Sene missing, where will the goals come from?
tBM: That's a tough call. The thing to remember is that although Sene was the far and away goalscoring leader, he was only one of fourteen different players who have scored goals (twelve active, since Moreno and Joseph are gone). Guys like Lee Nguyen, Kelyn Rowe, Benny Feilhaber, and now maybe Imbongo or Diego Fagundez are more than capable of knocking them in given the chance. Plus, Juan Toja wasn't too shabby as a goalscorer in Dallas, either.
It's going to be rough not having that one guy on the field who you could always look to and say "we need a goal, now go get it." Regardless, I do think the Revs can manage without him.
Keep reading for my responses to the Bent Musket's questions.
tBM: Earlier this season it looked like DC might be one of the two or three strongest teams in the East. Now they're out of the playoff picture. The season is far from over, obviously, and United is just a point or two out of the fifth spot, but recent form hasn't been encouraging. What, if anything, caused this dip in form?
B&RU: Honestly, I disagree. United hasn't suffered from a dip of form. Rather, the team has suffered from some unlucky breaks (Wilman Conde scoring the goal of his life), some unexplainable officiating (what up, Mark Geiger), and an incredibly packed stretch of matches (our recent 1-0 loss at Real Salt Lake was our fifth match in 14 days). United played well enough to win four of those five matches. Unfortunately that doesn't mean much when you look at the standings though.
tBM: United is 2-0-0 up on the Revs in the season series, but these two teams are vastly different from the two that met last in May. The Revs are sitting in the basement, just over Toronto, hoping desperately that last week's win will right the ship a bit going into the offseason. D.C. is still very much in the playoff hunt. Talk about what seems different about this matchup now as opposed to in the Spring, and what you think United will do to try and ensure a clean sweep of the Revs for 2012.
B&RU: You're not the only ones who are desperate. After finishing the month of August with a disappointing 2-2-2 record, United now has five straight matches against teams that are currently outside of playoff competition. I'm not going to say that every match is a must-win, but anything but the full three points against the visiting Revolution would be a disappointment. So with both teams well-rested and in desperation mode, I'd expect a faster and more hectic pace to the match. That likely bode well for Chris Pontius and Andy Najar on the wings for United, while Perry Kitchen and Marcelo Saragosa will try to slow New England's attack in the middle.
tBM: This should be the first match where D.C. will have to deal with the Revs' DP striker Jerry Bengtson. How do you think Ben Olsen will gameplan for the Honduran hot hand, and how do you think Saer Sene's absence affects that plan?
B&RU: I've got to admit that we may have celebrated that one a bit. Sene was pretty much the only reason that our previous matches were close. Olsen will have a difficult choice to make in central defense with Brandon McDonald, Dejan Jakovic, and Emiliano Dudar all healthy. While B-Mac and Dudar had been the top choice starters when both were 100%, Jakovic has been in top form recently, and would probably be the top candidate to mark up closely with Bengtson.
tBM: Give us an under-the-radar player the Revs should watch out for in this match. Previously, you've highlighted Branko Boskovic and Daniel Woolard.
B&RU: You might be somewhat familiar with Lionard Pajoy from his time with the Philadelphia Union. His skills match up perfectly with what Olsen looks for in his target strikers. He's aggressive, strong, good in the air. Pajoy struggled in his first few games here, but he's really rounding into form now that he's getting to know his teammates' mannerisms more. Pajoy didn't come to D.C. cheaply. We had to give up Danny Cruz to get him. But he was brought here to fill a specific role that was vacant due to an injury to Maicon Santos. Now that Santos is healthy, I expect Pajoy to retain that role.
tBM: Finally, let's have your projected starting XI and a scoreline prediction.
B&RU: The starting lineup is difficult to predict with the awful news that Dwayne De Rosario suffered an MCL injury during the Canadian National Team loss to Panama. I think we're likeliest to see Pontius move to forward next to Pajoy, with Najar and Nick DeLeon on the wings, and Kitchen and Saragosa in the middle of a sort of empty bucket midfield. This will be Robbie Russell's first match in over a month at the right back spot as he returns from injury. Chris Korb will stay on the left, with McDonald and Jakovic in the middle. Bill Hamid will be in goal. Since each of our previous games have been settled by a single goal, I see no reason to depart from that in my prediction. 2-1 United.