(Editor’s note: Prior to each Revolution match, New England Soccer Today will invite a reporter who covers the Revolution’s upcoming opponent to provide greater insight on what to expect on gameday.
This week, Craig Stouffer from The Washington Examiner was kind enough to share his insight on D.C. United and what the Revolution can expect on Saturday at RFK Stadium.)
New England Soccer Today: Since the last time the Revs and D.C. played (Apr. 14), United has risen to second spot in the conference. What things in particular have led to their ascent?
Craig Stouffer: The win over the Revolution was a pretty important springboard for the team, proof inside the United locker room that they had what it takes to win on the road – that’s the kind of mental fortitude the team has lacked in recent seasons. Chris Pontius also scored his way into the starting lineup, and he proved to have a formidable partnership with Maicon Santos at forward.
Despite a number of injuries along the back line, United’s only shaky defensive performance came in a 5-3 loss at San Jose – Bill Hamid reclaimed the starting goalkeeping job after that match and hasn’t relinquished it. But even against the Earthquakes, the potency of the D.C. attack was on display. Designated player Hamdi Salihi got his first goal in that match, starting a run of four goals in five games. Dwayne De Rosario has also found the form that earned him MLS MVP last season, scoring three times in two games last week to earn MLS player of the week. With Branko Boskovic, United’s third but often forgotten DP, also showing why D.C. splashed the cash for him two years ago, all of a sudden D.C. feels like it has the makings of a contender.
Which new or lingering issues since their last meeting with the Revs need to be addressed?
Nagging injuries, particularly hamstring strains, continue to plague the club. Emiliano Dudar, Robbie Russell, Nick DeLeon and Danny Cruz have all been battling with hamstring problems. Chris Pontius also has a gluteal muscle issue. It’s forced rotation of players, but at some point it could threaten to catch up with the team over time.
United’s other major unknown is the future of Boskovic, whose contract expires at the end of June. His recent form has been long-awaited by the club, but there’s a chance it could be too late to save what has been a mostly disappointing two years for him in Washington. D.C. could have plans to replace him, but the continuity he provides in the central attacking midfield role is crucial, allowing De Rosario to play forward or to rest altogether. D.C. will take a risk if it lets him go midseason, but it won’t be cheap to keep him either.
How is Ben Olsen coping with rash of injuries that have beset his squad?
As I said above, the player rotations required have been successful. Lewis Neal filled in on the wing last week. Andy Najar, normally a right midfield, has played plenty of minutes at right back. Daniel Woolard, an outside back, has been stellar in positions across the back line. Even Josh Wolff was impressive in his first start of the year last weekend. If this team gets healthy, Olsen’s biggest challenge will be unhappy players on the bench.
What’s the biggest storyline for D.C. going into Saturday’s game?
United knows it can claim first place in the Eastern Conference and its first three-game winning streak since 2008 with a victory over New England. D.C. has played more games than any team in MLS and that it’s point total may be a tad inflated. The urgency to get points is clear, plus there’s a full three-week break between league matches on the back side of this match.
What’s D.C.’s likely starting XI on Saturday?
Bill Hamid; Chris Korb, Brandon McDonald, Dejan Jakovic, Daniel Woolard; Josh Wolff, Perry Kitchen, Branko Boskovic, Andy Najar; Dwayne De Rosario, Hamdi Salihi
Craig Stouffer covers D.C. United for The Washington Examiner. He is a member of The North American Soccer Reporters.