The top two sides in MLS's Eastern Conference face off today, with D.C. United hosting the New England Revolution. Despite their spots in the standings, neither team is in very good form at the moment. The Revs come to town having won their last outing, but it's their only win in their last 7 games. United, meanwhile, has gone an uninspiring 2W-1D-3L in their last 6 league matches.
Nonetheless, due to slumping sides elsewhere, a win would still put United back atop the Supporters Shield race. New England, meanwhile, would inch within a point of the Black-and-Red if they can correct their poor road form - the Revs give up 2 goals per game as the away side - and would have a game in hand to boot. This being the last regular season meeting between the sides, the winner would also enjoy a tie-breaking advantage that could have major implication come playoff time.
Key player: Perry Kitchen
The Revs want to charge through midfield and get right to attacking, which means that making it hard to play through the middle third is vital. This is a team job that requires plenty of work from every midfielder and even the forwards, but no one for United is going to be more responsible for preventing New England from getting to play their style than Kitchen.
Furthermore, Kitchen will have a lot of runners to track. Lee Nguyen may not be anywhere near the form he was in last season, but he's still capable of creating chances and scoring goals by dribbling through the middle of the field. Scott Caldwell, meanwhile, has added goalscoring to his repertoire of late despite having to be the #6 in New England's 4231. Kitchen will be the most physically gifted player in central midfield in this game, and he needs to leverage that to make sure that United is winning the middle.
Key question: Can United come out and play well from the start?
The weather today - around 90, with significant humidity - is going to be a major factor, especially after last night's torrential rains. Both teams played Wednesday night Open Cup games, and while both teams preserved their starters, what they don't have are substitutes that didn't play major minutes just a few days ago. Those two factors point to a second half that will produce little in the way of quality.
United's first 10 minutes against TFC and Orlando were pretty good, but in both cases they lost their way. That's not going to cut it today, because exhausted players don't tend to overhaul deficits very often. United needs to match or exceed those starts, and then improve from there. In these conditions, chasing the game is extremely difficult. United needs to make sure it's the Revolution turning to spent players or rarely-used backups in the 2nd half in their attempt to equalize rather than the other way around.
Match date/time: Sunday 6/21, 5:00pm Eastern
Venue: Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium (Washington, DC)
TV: ESPN2 (English), ESPN Deportes (Spanish)
Online: WatchESPN (English)
Check back in two hours for our gamethread.