After spending two weeks on the road, the New England Revolution will be celebrating a homecoming when they welcome D.C. United to Gillette Stadium on Saturday night. New England most recently lost a heartbreaker to Dallas, conceding a goal in the final moments of stoppage time and going down 1-0 in Frisco. DC, meanwhile, is coming off a creditable 0-0 draw with Seattle.
DC has only scored five goals so far, but four of them came two weeks ago in a 4-1 pummeling of Dallas. Rookie Nick Deleon and attackers Danny Cruz and Maicon Santos proved themselves to be sinister offensive threats at the MLS level, while Dwayne De Rosario remains in midfield pulling the strings. United's defense has also tightened up from last season, with the addition of Emiliano Dudar in particular helping plug holes in a back line that was leakier than a sieve in 2011.
Today's Q&A is with Martin Shatzer of Black and Red United, SB Nation's D.C. United blog. Read my answers to his questions in his Behind Enemy Lines series, and check out his answers after the jump.
TBM: After a slowish start, DC just pulled off an incredible 4-1 thrashing of FC Dallas and then managed a creditable 0-0 draw against a very, very good Seattle side. In the wide-open East, results like that can get a team in the playoff picture pretty quickly. Do you believe DC is a playoff team this year, or are these just flukes or strong home performances that, in the end, will still see United coming up short?
MS: If anything was a fluke, it was the one goal that United allowed in the Dallas match, which came off a random mistake from our best defender, and likely a blown offside call. The fact that United has allowed only that one fluky goal in its last three games is no accident, and that's the reason that this team will be in the playoffs in 2012. With as much attacking talent as D.C. has on its roster, the consistent goal-scoring that's been lacking will come eventually. But the defense is so much better this year than in the past few years that saw United outside the playoffs. That's what's raised our expectations. And with teams like the Philadelphia Union and Toronto FC getting out of the gates far worse than anticipated, a top 5 finish in the Eastern Conference should be easily within United's reach.
TBM: I watched the entirety of the Dallas match, and it looked like Nick Deleon, Maicon Santos, and Danny Cruz were really calling the shots in attack. One guy who looked good but did not - and has not - had the effect that is really expected of him is Dwayne De Rosario. Why do you think DeRo is having such difficulty re-creating his MVP form from last season, and do you think he can capture that again? As a follow-up, if he does get back to that summit, just how dangerous can this team become?
MS: I don't mean to make excuses for him, but the formation and De Rosario's role in it have changed a bit from last year. The past three weeks, Ben Olsen's squad has been playing a mixture of a flat 4-4-2 with a 4-1-3-2 with De Rosario in central midfield, which has given him more defensive responsibility and less freedom than when he was playing as a withdrawn forward for us last year. So we don't really expect DeRo to duplicate his incredible numbers from last season, but he'll continue to be a key component of our attack. He earned assists on two of our five goals already this year, and there's no reason to think that he won't approach the 10-goal mark by season's end.
TBM: Give us an under-the-radar player Revolution fans should watch out for in this match.
MS: If you're a Revolution fan and you're not familiar with Emiliano Dudar already, then you will be soon. The 6'-4" Argentine defender has been a big reason for United's defensive improvement, but so has left back Daniel Woolard, who's really stepped up his play this season. No longer is any spot in the D.C. defense weaker than any other spot.
TBM: Who do you think DC United players fear most on the pitch for New England?
MS: If he plays, that would surely be Benny Feilhaber, who seems to dictate the rhythm for the Revolution. If he doesn't play, then the fear for us might be that Lee Nguyen and Kelyn Rowe will negate the advantage that D.C. might expect to have on the wings. More than any other player though, I fear an uncharacteristic letdown from our team. That cost us six points from two winnable games against New England last year, and United can't afford to let that happen again in 2012.
TBM: Finally, let's have your projected starting XI and a scoreline prediction.
MS: Although Bill Hamid has returned to full training after recovering from the injury he picked up during Olympic Qualifying, I think we'll still see Joe Willis in goal. Robbie Russell and Brandon McDonald will join Dudar and Woolard along the back line, while Andy Najar will return to join De Rosario, Perry Kitchen, and Nick DeLeon in the midfield. Hamdi Salihi and Maicon Santos will start up top. I'm predicting United to earn its third shutout in four matches, get Salihi his first MLS goal, and escape Foxboro as 2-0 winners.