The New England Revolution have had a nice week and a half off since their last match but will be thrown right back into the fire against D.C. United on Saturday night in the nation's capital. The Revs are hoping for a surge of confidence to carry them through to the end of the season after snapping a ten-match winless streak with a 2-0 victory over Columbus last week. United, on the other hand, haven't won since August 22nd against Chicago, and are coming off a run of games that has seen them on the outside looking in at the 2012 playoff picture.
Generally, the key to stopping D.C. is to focus on slowing down Dwayne De Rosario. The Revolution will not have to worry about completing such a tall task, however, as the Canadian superstar suffered an MCL injury on international duty this week and is out for 10-12 weeks. Regardless, the Revolution defense will still be threatened by the likes of Chris Pontius, Andy Najar, and others; United's high-octane attack is by no means anemic without DeRo. Clyde Simms will need to be at his very best in defensive midfield during his emotional return to RFK Stadium; his ability to stifle the creativity of whomever starts in the middle for D.C. could prove crucial to a favorable result.
United's defense is by no means bad, but, at the same time, it's not very good. In fact, D.C. has conceded the same number of goals as the Revolution, but in one less game. Regardless, Bill Hamid is the great equalizer for United in goal, and his incredible reflexes and freakish athleticism has kept the Revolution from getting a result already this season. Jerry Bengtson and Lee Nguyen will be leaned upon to create and finish chances for the Revs. Further, this match could be the debut performance of Juan Toja; the Colombian's flamboyant skill and ability is a wild card that could provide exactly the sort of spark the Revs need to get a result.
Today's Q&A is with Martin Shatzer of Black and Red United, SB Nation's D.C. United blog. To catch up on the series, you can read our previous interviews with Martin here and here. Also, I answered questions for him, which he has already posted over at B&RU. Check out his answers after the jump.
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?
MS: 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.
MS: 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?
MS: 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.
MS: 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.
MS: The starting lineup is difficult to predict with last night's 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.