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Know Thy Enemy: Revolution Adjustments vs the DC United Wayne Rooney Reunion Tour

Wayne Rooney is back in DC this time as head coach but perhaps not even he can save the East basement dwellers.

MLS: D.C. United at Charlotte FC Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

Okay, I admit I was not expecting last week’s 3-0 win in Orlando with a short handed New England Revolution squad. Put your hands down, you weren’t either.

But now the expectations to go out and beat DC United today at home at 730pm are staggeringly high - simply put the Revs should get three points today and need three points if they want to continue their march up the standings towards a playoff spot.

The adjustments Bruce Arena deployed last week were quite frankly, sensational. Some were solid tactical decisions while others were just good individual performances. Seth already did a post breaking down the goals so go read that for the specifics on Polster and Kaptoum’s strikes in particular but I did want to briefly run through a few things that I though worked really well and likely will see again with the Revs’ lengthy injury list.

First, despite the 4-2-3-1 lineup card from last week, the away broadcast showed the Revs in a “Christmas tree” 4-3-2-1 look and I actually think that’s how it worked. Carles Gil dropped deep along the flanks to get the ball, preserving the midfield trio’s shape, and Tommy McNamara stayed high and wide and became a good partner and workhorse in tandem with Justin Rennicks who essientially was a lone pressing forward.

This gave the Revs several advantageous overloads for Orlando to deal with and they did - for the first ball. Then Tommy Mac made a recovery in the attacking third and did what he normally does when he makes a recovery - find a lateral pass to an open player.

Except instead of this lateral ball starting an attack from the midfield or opening up part of the field from deeper, it ends up being the ball that decimated the Orlando backline with a sublime Polster run and a lovely Kaptoum one-timer netting goals.

The New England press was very effective and credit to Rennicks in particular for a couple of very solid shifts up top these last two weeks. The focus for him has been more of a disruptive pest than a traditional lone striker, but he did his job in the first half against Toronto before giving way to Vrioni and posted a 93% passing mark in Orlando. The Revs also adjusted a lot of their final balls into the box, going with lower more direct crosses and Jones nearly found Rennicks for close range header but it missed by millimeters.

Now, the Revs were by no means dominant offensively in that Orlando game, because soccer is weird. But New England really limited Orlando to few if any quality looks at goal and generated and converted the best chances in the game with Matt Polster’s goal registering about a 0.45 xG. So even though Orlando had more quantity in their chances, the Revs grabbed the win in resounding fashion. The one constant for the Revs the last few weeks has been defensively with Djordje Petrovic and the defense posting three straight shutouts but only five points to show for those efforts.

Against a DC squad that hasn’t been able to defend anyone this year, it’s important for the Revs to keep their foot on the pedal and get another three points today even without some of their front line players. I would expect to see Rennicks start again and perhaps try and settle in to a more traditional striker role and get more shots on target and depending on availability, maybe be paired with a couple of more traditional wide/winger types. But until the Revs get fully healthy, I don’t expect them to generate buckets of chances and they’ll just have to be opportunistic with the ones they do get. Especially against bad teams like today.

For DC, I want to give all the credit in the world to Wayne Rooney and the job he did at Derby County last season under the difficulties of administration. Had the Rams not been deducted a whopping 21 points, they would have finished mid table but ultimately suffered relegation to League One. If anyone can salvage this DC United season, it’s Rooney, though it is a steep hill to climb out of the basement for any shot at playoff glory this year.

But perhaps the Wayne Rooney project isn’t about making the playoffs this year but laying the foundation for 2023. As always we chat with our good friend Ryan Keefer from Black and Red United about Rooney’s hiring and the less than stellar season DC is having right now. As always be sure to check out my answers to their questions over on their site.

TBM: I think the job Wayne Rooney did at Derby County under administration was nothing short of outstanding, what does the fanbase think about the DCU coaching carousel?

RK: I think it’s less about the carousel and more around the messaging and events (known or otherwise) behind it; Hernan Losada’s first year saw the team playing exciting soccer but by the end of 2021 they were running on fumes, so no real backdoor chance to get into the playoffs was realistic. The season starts off tentatively, he gets fired, and a LOT of people were upset by it; despite the reports about frayed player tensions and perhaps microbial managing of fitness and nutrition (check Chris Seitz’ story on that earlier this year), Sporting Director Dave Kasper and GM Lucy Rushton put out a statement (a rarity for the former) discussing the move and putting belief into the squad they have, but assigning long-term assistant Chad Ashton back into that spot after Ben Olsen left was kind of punting on things to an extent and the team’s play in the weeks leading up to Rooney’s assumption of coaching duties makes the statement of faith (and roster turnover since Rooney assumed charge) as a tiny bit disingenuous.

The team put their trust into Losada, to the point where Designated Player and newly minted All-Star Paul Arriola, who signed a long-term contract extension during Covid shutdown, was shipped out as a result. And it backfired badly. Rooney coming into DC, knowing that he’s on an 18 month contract, and knowing that he left his last time with DC early, is stopping the organizational bleed, and if they miss on their next hire, is going to make things worse than when Losada was sacked.

TBM: 47 GA and -19 GD are among the worst in the league, is DC’s leaky defense the most pressing issue Rooney has to solve and what adjustments have the team already tried this year tactically or personnel wise?

RK: They’ve moved to a 4231(from a 343), which had the requisite acclimation for those involved, but I don’t even think you could answer that now; Victor Palsson (signed from Schalke) being available for selection and potentially making his debut Saturday, the team may have its smartest 6 in quite some time, but Brendan Hines-Ike had season-ending surgery for the second straight year, so the team won’t be running first choice guys for the balance.

They tend to invert the midfield and let the fullbacks come forward, which had made Andy Najar slightly regress (injuries not helping) from his grand return at right center-back under Losada. They don’t have the firepower in those positions to make service dangerous thanks to, you guessed it, injury, but I’d imagine one would see Ravel Morrison dropping back and trying to get the ball towards attackers like Taxi Fountas (or get Martin Rodriguez into a distribution role) to link things up.

TBM: Obviously hiring Rooney is not a short term thing, but can he turn this team around for a late season push or could the focus for DC already be on 2023?

RK: After this game, DC plays at LAFC midweek, comes home to host Philadelphia, then back on the road to play Atlanta, then they finish August at NYCFC. So 3 of their next 4 games are against the best teams (by points) in MLS presently. I know believe is a helluva thing, but come on now. I know there are some offseason moves to be made, but most of who will play the Revs will be back with the team next year. Get the seeds in now, go from the jump next year.


OUT: Hines-Ike, Brad Smith (season-ending), Bill Hamid (hand, potential return by the end of the season?), Adrien Perez, Chris Odoi-Atsem. Christian Benteke (Visa)

Lineup: David Ochoa; Andy Najar, Steve Birnbaum, Tony Alfaro, Kimarni Smith; Chris Durkin, Victor Palsson; Jackson Hopkins, Ravel Morrison, Martin Rodriguez; Miguel Berry

Prediction: Seems like it’s always weird between these two, will go with a 2-2 draw.