D.C. United will move from one old foe to another this week, trekking up 95 to take on the New England Revolution. Both teams will be focused on getting their defense up to speed, as they combined to give up 7 goals in week 1. The Revs, at least, can fall back on a sharp attack that converted goals at crucial moments (3 minutes into the game, 2 minutes after the Dynamo took their first lead, and 3 minutes into stoppage time) to give them a draw in Houston.
Unlike United, the Revolution have not made major changes this offseason. They're still playing the same 4231 formation, and their only notable moves have been to replace Jermaine Jones with Gershon Koffie and to upgrade at right back (thanks to Je-Vaughn Watson falling into their laps). Otherwise, Jay Heaps has his team focused on being more consistent rather than doing something new.
Bobby Shuttleworth took a lot of the blame for the Dynamo's opening goal last week, but realistically Jose Goncalves and Chris Tierney were just as culpable. Shuttleworth's reputation among fans isn't that great, but he's quietly been improving over the past two seasons. In all likelihood, Shuttleworth isn't going to hand United any easy goals, but may not be able to come up with a save of the week winner either.
Right back would be a pretty easy call, but per The Bent Musket he missed training yesterday:
Watson is an interesting player who only really became a credible MLS starter in his late 20s, and left FC Dallas this offseason to be closer to his daughter in Philadelphia. He's a clear upgrade at right back for the Revs, but being absent from training this late in the week isn't a good sign for him to start. If Watson can't go, London Woodberry appears to have the edge on rookie Jordan McCrary to start instead. In that case, United will want to make sure Chris Rolfe is heavily involved in this game against what in either case will be an inexperienced right back.
Center back won't have any surprises. Goncalves and Andrew Farrell will start, and they still have yet to convince me that they're a duo that the Revs can be a real contender with. They just make too many avoidable mistakes, be it from Farrell having too much confidence in his ability on the ball (he's a bit like Dejan Jakovic in that regard) or from Goncalves doing something inexplicable to turn an easily defended situation into real danger.
They are still a decent pairing most of the time, though, and since United doesn't have an attack built to exploit their major weakness - that's aerial defending - this is going to be a test for the Black-and-Red's new attack. That selective pressure that produced a goal last week? It might be very useful against these two.
Tierney will start at left back, and he's the same consistent player as he ever was. He's still not the fastest, though, so players like Patrick Nyarko (if he plays), Luciano Acosta, and Lamar Neagle should be looking to get in behind him. Going the other way, Tierney is arguably the best crosser of the ball among MLS's left backs, so DCU is going to have to reduce the number of times he can serve the ball in. Finally, Tierney is very good on set pieces, so United can't give those away cheaply. After last week, I'm sure this was a point of emphasis in every training session and in the film room.
Koffie will definitely start in central midfield, and his role is important for New England. He can't replace Jones in terms of field vision or passing ability, but the main thing the Revs need in that spot is someone who can cover a ton of ground. Koffie fits the bill very well, and provides a physical edge to a midfield that otherwise is pretty soft. If there's a weakness with the Ghanaian, it's that he can tend to over-commit, leaving where he needs to be in pursuit of balls he's never going to win. United needs to make sure he's chasing the play while he's in the game.
Heaps started Kelyn Rowe alongside Koffie in Houston, and it's hard to understand why. Rowe is a hard worker, but he's not a defensive midfielder at all. This was probably a misguided effort to get his best 11 players on the field, but even then you can argue that the player who lost out - Scott Caldwell - is one of New England's best 11. Rowe is said to have an injury, but even if he's 100% fit the Revs should be starting Caldwell, who is a far more natural partner for Koffie.
The front three should be easy to predict, but it never is with New England. Heaps loves to rotate on the wings in pursuit of favorable match-ups. Last week he went with Teal Bunbury and Diego Fagundez, and the results were mixed. Fagundez was spectacular, scoring once and getting involved on the other two New England goals. Bunbury toiled, but mostly just committed foul after foul before being subbed off to ensure he didn't pick up a second yellow card (trust me, it was coming).
Rowe is an option on either flank, as is Juan Agudelo. You might remember Agudelo's last competitive game against United. Heaps will probably choose between Bunbury and Agudelo on the right due to both players offering the sort of physicality that Taylor Kemp has been known to struggle with. Fagundez really should get to start again after what he did in Houston, and United will need to do a lot better job of tracking him than the Dynamo were able to do.
Unlike the wide men, Lee Nguyen is not going to be challenged as a starter. The job for United against Nguyen is to make sure the space between the lines is narrow and to make his day at the office consistently unpleasant. Nguyen doesn't always respond well to physical play, but the real way to slow him down is to simply deny him a clean first touch. If someone's in his personal space as he's receiving the ball, Nguyen tends to get upset and to withdraw from the game a bit. If United is going to win at Gillette Stadium, they need to make sure Nguyen is passing the buck to his attacking teammates rather than running the show himself.
Up front, Charlie Davies is probably going to start over Agudelo. Last year in the playoffs, Heaps probably chose Agudelo against United because he was looking ahead to the potential conference semifinal three days later rather than for any specific tactical reason. Davies is still a difficult player to cope with because of his strength and his balance. Despite lacking size, Davies is good with his back to goal because he's so hard to move. He also seems to embrace the idea that this is Nguyen's show rather than his own, and is willing to take the hits and play one- and two-touch so that the creators behind him can get more of the ball.
Off the bench, Agudelo and (assuming he's fit) Rowe will both get into this game at some point. Rowe could show up anywhere in the midfield, while Aguelo could be up front or on either wing. Daigo Kobayashi, who scored the crucial equalizer for the Revs last week, is a frequent substitute as well, usually alongside a more defensive player in central midfield.