The New England Revolution travel south this weekend to take on historic heartbreakers Houston Dynamo in a match that could have early playoff implications in the Eastern Conference. Or, one or both teams could completely mail it in later this season and this match could mean absolutely nothing in the grand scheme of the postseason. It's worth remembering that both the Revs and the Dynamo were that bad last year.
But all that pessimism is no fun, so instead let's focus on the fact that the two teams are second and third in the conference, respectively, separated by just a point in the standings. Houston was looking positively anemic up until this past Sunday when they exploded to a 3-1 victory over Vancouver. Cam Weaver, Bobby Boswell and rookie Will Bruin registered goals but Brad Davis was the real star, racking up three assists and thoroughly dominating the left side.
The Revs, on the other hand, are limping into this encounter. Last week featured disappointing draws with Portland and Vancouver that were topped off on Saturday with an embarrassing 2-0 loss to Real Salt Lake's B-team. Possession and passing continues to be the problem in Foxboro, and it will only be exacerbated in this away encounter by the absence of Shalrie Joseph due to suspension. Pat Phelan is also missing, leaving the Revolution dangerously thin in the center of midfield.
Obviously, the major question on everybody's minds is this: will Rajko Lekic play on Sunday? Honestly, there's no answer for that yet. He can't feature until his ITC goes through, which could happen tomorrow or next week. It's down to the Danish FA and the USSF now.
It's funny, though; one quote he gave to Brian O'Connell of ESPN Boston sticks out to me: "I'm just going to need some chances to score goals. We need to create chances to score goals and hopefully we'll get them." He definitely has the desire to score, but if he's expecting a lot of chances he came to the wrong MLS club. If anything the Revs have been worse at creating scoring chances in the last two or three seasons than they've been at scoring them.
The latest injury report (April 12th) lists rookie Andrew Sousa as "probable," which is handy because he may have to start in the center of midfield this week. Ousmane Dabo, Matt Reis and Ryan Cochrane are "questionable," while Didier Domi makes an appearance on the report in the "doubtful" section due to - you guessed it - a hamstring strain. I'm beginning to think there's something going on with New England's training methods or facilities with all these muscle strains cropping up every week.
This week's Q&A is with Zach "The Ginge" Woosley, proprietor of Dynamo Theory here on SB Nation. This initial segment ran a little longer than I meant it to, so check out all his answers after the jump.
TBM: There is a sense in Foxboro (and apparently in MLS) that Houston-New England is a bit of a rivalry. Obviously there are no regional roots for this, but back-to-back contentious encounters in the MLS Cup Finals plus SuperLiga clashes has a way of developing animosity. Do you think fans (and players) in Houston recognize this and also feel it's a budding rivalry, or do you think it's a figment of New Englanders' imaginations?
If there is any rivalry between Houston and New England, I'm not picking up on it from this end. The players see it as another important conference game and the fans just want to win every match. I don't want to sound condescending but rivalries struggle to form when one team won both the biggest matches between the two (and nobody cares about SuperLiga) so it could be more if they'd split those MLS Cup finals. Even with FC Dallas, only their recent success has begun to really build a true rivalry, if anything it's been more like an annoying sibling who's jealous of the attention and success of the other.
TBM: In Sunday's 3-1 win over Vancouver, rookie Will Bruin opened up his MLS scoring account after what had been a pretty frustrating match for him early on. Do you see this as a sign that he will be a major contributor/starter for the Dynamo in 2011, or do you believe that Dominic Kinnear will try to bring him along slowly, especially once Brian Ching is healthy? Also noteworthy - Brad Davis set up all three goals. How important is he to any success the Dynamo may have this year?
Will Bruin was genuinely relieved after the match to have scored that first goal. He even admitted that as soon as he shot he was essentially praying it wouldn't hit the post. I think he'll continue to get opportunities this season to play, even when Ching is healthy as long as he is working hard in training and taking advantage of his time on the field. Worst case, he gets some time in the Reserve League. Either way he's going to be a big part of this team's future success.
Brad Davis is the key to the Houston offense. At the moment he's their best midfield playmaker, best set piece taker and when he is on, the Dynamo generate chances and score goals.
TBM: Give us an under the radar player Revs fans should watch out for in this match.
Danny Cruz. He's not going to be under the radar much longer but it's clear Danny worked his butt off in the offseason and we're starting to see his game mature on the field. We all knew he was fast and has one of the best motors in the league, but now he's starting to pass better and make better on the ball decisions. There are still moments when he doesn't do what you'd like him to, but that's part of the process. He can drive a defense mad with his speed and work rate and wear down any fullback in the league.
TBM: Who do you think the Dynamo will fear most on the pitch for the Revolution? (May I remind you that the popular answer - Shalrie Joseph - is suspended)
Probably Zack Schilwaski. From what I've watched of the Revs this year he seems like a guy that has been dangerous and able to threaten defenses. Then again, the way New England matches have gone, it might be the referee we should fear the most.
TBM: Finally, let's get your projected starting XI and a score prediction.
Hall - Freeman - Boswell - Hainault - Ashe - Palmer - Cruz - Davis - Cameron - Bruin - Weaver ; I'm going to say 2-1 Houston.