D.C. United finishes up its marathon week of soccer by taking on the New England Revolution in Foxborough this Saturday. To preview that game, we turned to Steve Stoehr of The Bent Musket to give us the inside scoop on the Revs.
Questions for The Bent Musket
B&RU: With the Revs now on fire, what has changed for them since D.C. United beat them some weeks ago?
TBM: Well, from a technical standpoint, the lineup has changed. Jose Goncalves has been injured for a while, forcing Andrew Farrell in at center-back and Darrius Barnes at right-back, but the most important change is up top. Jay Heaps finally moved Teal Bunbury from the target forward position out to the wing, supplanting Saer Sene, and pushed Patrick Mullins into the center forward spot. Bunbury now has the freedom to attack while facing goal, but he still has the size and the ability to be a bit of a target on the wing - something Matt Doyle wrote about a few weeks ago. Mullins, meanwhile, is a big body whose hold-up play has really been the glue that gets the attack together, and he commands the attention of both center-backs in the opposing defense.
Since that happened, this team has fallen into a rhythm, and the chemistry is evident. Mullins is creating and scoring. Bunbury is dangerous, and while he's picking up more assists than goals, he's getting on the scoresheet. Diego Fagundez has woken up from his slump now that he has Bunbury to work with on the other wing. And of course, there's Lee Nguyen, who is emerging as one of the top midfielders in MLS. The Revs have found their identity as a hard-defending, fast-breaking club that's lethal on the attack, and they're playing like it.
B&RU: Kelyn Rowe has been relegated to the bench in recent games. Do you think that is fair and, if so, can D.C. United have him?
TBM: Well, he wasn't so much relegated to the bench as he was hurt with a severe muscle strain. He's been off the IR for a little while, but Heaps is still easing him back into the starting XI. Furthermore, this team has been playing so damned well, it's tough to justify messing things up. It's been said that Nguyen and Rowe were more of a "Maverick and Iceman" dynamic at times, while Nguyen and Daigo Kobayashi are more of a "Maverick and Goose." Right now, the latter is working. That doesn't mean, of course, that Rowe won't get time soon. He's too good not to. But for now, he's part of our overwhelming midfield depth.
And no, you can't have him.
B&RU: How are you feeling about the defense? Was letting in three goals against the Union a symptom of that particular game, or are there underlying issues?
TBM: I think there are underlying problems. A lot of people are excited about how the defense is playing and rightfully so, since they aren't giving up a lot of goals, but I think a lot of it has been down to luck in addition to skill. This defense plays fast and loose more often than not, and eventually teams are going to punish them for it. I could just be paranoid, and it's true that Jose Goncalves hasn't been part of the team lately, so the best days for this defense might be ahead, but...I don't know. I'm just not confident.
Soares is always good for a mental lapse or two here and there, and occasionally he enjoys hitting the ground a little too much for a defender. Farrell throws himself out of position with his athleticism, which is great at times, but sometimes it puts the back line in very bad spots. Barnes has been fairly solid and Tierney's knock has always been lack of speed, and when you couple all of that together, a lot of things can go wrong real fast.
B&RU: Projected starting XI and prediction for the game?
TBM: Brad Knighton; Chris Tierney, A.J. Soares, Andrew Farrell, Darrius Barnes; Andy Dorman; Diego Fagundez, Lee Nguyen, Daigo Kobayashi, Teal Bunbury; Patrick Mullins
I'm scared of a big let-down here, and it's not like United is a poor side here. I predict a 2-1 win for the Revs, but I'm hardly confident.
Questions for Black and Red United
TBM: The last meeting between these two clubs went D.C.'s way, but the Revs have been on an absolute tear lately after a slight formation and lineup shift. What do you think will be different for United in this match?
B&RU: There won't be too much different for D.C. United, expect the fact that the team has continued to gel since the last match against New England. The spine of the team has really solidified, with the partnerships of Jeff Parke and Bobby Boswell and Perry Kitchen and Davy Arnaud providing the rock of the team. The main difference will be the addition of Chris Rolfe, who has become a mainstay in the lineup ever since he was traded to D.C. United just before the first United-Revs game. He and Fabian Espindola have started to create an impressive partnership, with each assisting the other's goal in United's win against Houston. And speaking of Espindola, he continues to be on fire, with five goals and five assists so far this season.
TBM: Revs fans have been ecstatic when looking at the conference standings lately, but D.C. fans can't be too upset either. What's the secret been for the Black and Red?
B&RU: The secret has been trusting in the veterans that Ben Olsen brought in this offseason. After stumbling out of the gates, fans were undeniably nervous about these veterans that Olsen had acquired: players like Parke, Boswell, Espindola, Arnaud, and Sean Franklin had been good MLS players, but none of them were superstars. But after those first two games, these players started to find their feet in DC, and once the defense started to improve everything else did as well. The addition of Chris Rolfe added some sorely needed creativity, and hopefully Eddie Johnson's first goal last weekend will be the first of many.
TBM: Eddie Johnson finally got on the scoresheet last weekend and served his suspension on Wednesday, so he should be available on Saturday. What's been the major issue with him to this point, and do you think those issues are behind him?
B&RU: Part of Eddie Johnson's critique of the team was correct: he does not have the same kind of players getting him the ball that he did in Seattle. The lack of a winger that can consistently cross has been a long-standing problem for D.C. United; for the past few years, it has almost always been forwards or central midfielders taking corner kicks, for example. But part of it has been on Johnson as well. As the team has gelled around him, he has continued to scuffle. Now that he has gotten his first goal out of the way, I hope the goals will now come more easily to him; it should help that Chris Rolfe and Fabian Espindola are playing so well.
TBM: Who do you think United fears most on the pitch for the Revs?
B&RU: The thing that scares me the most is speed, so that would mean Diego Fagundez. For all the good qualities that Parke and Boswell have, speed is not among them. Without Boniek Garcia, Houston did not have much in the way of team speed, and D.C. United's midfield and back line was able to shut them down. It will again be up to that midfield, and primarily Perry Kitchen and Davy Arnaud, to prevent Fagundez from being able to get one-on-one with either of the center backs.
TBM: Finally, let's have your projected starting XI and a scoreline prediction
B&RU: I will preface this by saying that, as the third game in a week's time, we all expect Ben Olsen to rotate his squad; however, he has shown no inclination that he will do so. With that I mind, I will predict the top choice XI: Bill Hamid; Sean Franklin, Bobby Boswell, Jeff Parke, Chris Korb; Nick DeLeon, Perry Kitchen, Davy Arnaud, Chris Rolfe; Fabian Espindola, Eddie Johnson. I am going to predict a little luck for United and go with a 2-2 draw.