The New England Revolution will have to put last week's disappointing home draw with Houston far behind them as they travel to the nation's capital to take on D.C. United at RFK Stadium. Despite the Houston draw, New England is in decent form, having recently beaten Colorado and Vancouver before the Dynamo draw. DC is also playing well, holding down second place in the East and sporting one of the most potent offenses in the entire league.
United's main threats are the wealth of attacking options they bring to bear. Apart from the obvious in Dwayne De Rosario, DC can hit you from both flanks, the middle, and the front through guys like Hamdi Salihi, Chris Pontius, Branko Boskovic, and all manner of other threats. In fact, the offense in Washington has been so good and so potent that I can't even recall hearing too much about Andy Najar, a guy who was very nearly the face of the franchise in the past two seasons.
TBM: Last season, DC had it pretty rough, but this season it looks as though Ben Olsen & co. have really turned it around. They're second place in the East and tied for the league-best in goals scored. What would you say has been the greatest catalyst for success this year in the nation's capital?
MS: If you ask Olsen, the answer is simple - better players. If you look deeper though, its not quite that simple. After all, there aren't THAT many new players: Hamdi Salihi was brought in to replace Charlie Davies' production, and Nick DeLeon and Maicon Santos have been added, but that certainly doesn't tell the full story of United's sudden offensive prowess. The main difference, in my opinion, has been competition. In addition to the three players already named, Andy Najar, Chris Pontius, Branko Boskovic, Danny Cruz, and of course Dwayne De Rosario are also in good form. That's eight guys fighting for five spots. The best players have been playing. The others have been pushing them harder than ever before.
TBM: In the last meeting between these two teams, United pulled off a late upset through a great Chris Pontius goal. That aside, it looked as though both of these sides matched up well and had played each other largely to a stalemate. Do you expect a similar type of match at RFK, or do you think the home field advantage will enable DC to ramp up the offense and overpower the Revs?
MS: An upset? Is that what that was? I saw it differently. I saw it as the better team overcoming adversity to rightfully pull away in the end. I don't expect Saturday's match to be similar though. In their last meeting, both teams were missing some pretty important players. Now they'll both be closer to full strength. And even though United has only allowed two goals in its last four games since Bill Hamid returned to the starting lineup, I think this match is likely to see more than the three goals we saw in the last one. Home field advantage could definitely play a factor too, since United hasn't lost at RFK Stadium since the opener against Sporting Kansas City.
TBM: Give us an under-the-radar player that Revs fans should watch out for in this match.
MS: He might not fit the under-the-radar label since he carries a designated player price tag, but you'll want to watch out for Boskovic. After serving as an afterthought for much of the early season, Boskovic made a big impact in both of last week's matches, helping to set up a goal in each match. Now that Boskovic is nearing the end of his two-year contract that started in July 2010, he's finally elected to make Olsen's decision more difficult. Boskovic has been able to set the rhythm for the attack from a central midfield role, allowing De Rosario the freedom to roam higher up.
TBM: Who do you think United players fear most on the New England roster?
MS: In the previous match in New England, we saw Saer Sene take advantage of space on that United's outside backs were leaving open. I'm worried about Lee Nguyen doing the same thing on Saturday. United's defense has been doing very well the past four matches, but the Revolution are likely to be the most talented attacking team that D.C. has faced since giving up five goals to the San Jose Earthquakes. This will be a major test.
TBM: Finally, let's have your projected starting XI and a scoreline prediction.
MS: The starting lineup will feature Hamid in goal, with Daniel Woolard, Brandon McDonald, Dejan Jakovic, and Chris Korb in front of him. The midfield will probably include Lewis Neal and Najar on the wings, with Perry Kitchen and Boskovic in the middle. De Rosario and Salihi will start up top, and they'll be heavily involved in United's 3-1 victory.