The New England Revolution might just be playing for pride — and perhaps their jobs — but on Saturday they have the chance to put a major dent in a rival’s play-off hopes. The Revolution’s trip to the nation’s capital comes at the opportune time to play the role of spoiler against D.C. United.
While New England 7-14-7, 28 points) long ago saw their playoff hopes evaporate, D.C. (12-10-5, 41 points) is still right in the thick of the Eastern Conference play-off hunt, despite a recent run of poor form. United sits just one point behind the Columbus Crew for the fifth and final Eastern Conference play-off spot.
Not too long ago, United looked like a sure bet to participate in the 2012 playoffs, but the most decorated club in Major League Soccer history has won just one game in their last six matches (1-3-2) and is now in desperate need of points with just seven games remaining.
D.C.’s hopes took a further dent on Thursday when the club learned reigning MVP and club captain Dwayne De Rosario suffered an MCL sprain while on international duty with Canada and is expected to miss 10-12 weeks — likely the rest of the season. De Rosario has seven goals and is second in the league with 12 assists in 26 games this season.
United will be looking for a win to get them out of their recent slump and boost confidence in their ability to get points without a key offensive cog. Only the Revolution — who D.C. has beaten twice already this season — stands in their way.
New England managed to end a club record 10 game winless run with a 2-0 win over Columbus — a win that kept United within striking distance of the Crew — on Sept. 5. Now the eighth place Revolution will look to build on that victory as they hope to build the foundation for a successful 2013 campaign.
And while D.C. will have to learn to live without De Rosario, the Revolution will be looking to find a place for a new offensive weapon in Colombian Juan Toja, who is hoping to regain fitness to make his debut after being acquired through the MLS Allocation Process on Aug. 27.
Whether or not Toja makes his debut on Saturday, head coach Jay Heaps will again have some difficult decisions to make. The midfield battle in D.C. will likely be the key to success and Heaps has been shuffling the pieces in that area all season. New England finally found success against the Crew a week and a half ago with a starting midfield that featured Lee Nguyen and Kelyn Rowe on the wings with Ryan Guy and Clyde Simms in the middle.
That line-up provided a bit of defensive bite with Guy and Simms in the middle, a likely necessity on the road, but left out creative attacking midfielder Benny Feilhaber. Feilhaber, the team’s highest salaried player, has been in and out of the starting elven in recent weeks and seems likely to take a spot on the bench again this week due to the team’s success without him against Columbus.
Though Heaps may keep the midfield the same, it should be a different story up top. Seveteen-year-old Diego Fagundez combined well with Dimitry Imbongo at striker in the club’s last match, but Jerry Bengtson’s return from international duty — on which he scored twice in two games for Honduras — means Heaps will likely need to sit one of his two recent starters.
Defensively Heaps has even more questions. The backline of Kevin Alston, Darrius Barnes, Stephen McCarthy and Flo Lechner has pitched two straight shutouts, while regular starters AJ Soares and Chris Tierney were on the sidelines recovering from minor knocks. Does Heaps go with what’s worked recently or return to his regular starters?
Regardless of who plays, the players given a chance to perform will need to be at their best both to get a result and keep their spot in the line-up the rest of the season — and on the squad past this year. Despite some improvements, 2012 has been a disappointing year for the Revolution and very few players can be confident in their spots on the team for 2013.
Saturday’s match in D.C. provides an opportunity for players to continue to make their case for next year and beating United could help a lot of player’s chances.
It could also play a key role in sending one of New England’s rivals, D.C. United, to the same fate the Revolution have already doomed themselves to: another long offseason.