Five Questions: Revolution vs. D.C. United

Revolution center back Stephen McCarthy will be called upon to help extend the club's shutout streak on Saturday against D.C. United. (Photo: Kari Heistad/capturedimages.biz)

Revolution center back Stephen McCarthy will be called upon to help extend the club’s shutout streak on Saturday against D.C. United. (Photo: Kari Heistad/capturedimages.biz)

If you’re a Revolution supporter, you can’t like the look or smell of Saturday’s game against the cellar-dweling D.C. United. At all.

You can’t because no matter how you look at it, it’s got that seductive allure. The allure of a game that should be easy to win, but will probably be inexplicably difficult. A game may seem harmless from afar, but the closer you get, the scent of disappointment becomes more pungent. A game that you wouldn’t want to touch with a 10-foot pole. Or a 20-foot pole, for that matter. A game that, let’s be honest, absolutely no good can come from. The only thing good about this game is the Kevin Alston bobblehead giveaway. And that’s pretty much it.

D.C. comes into this game with only one objective: To parade onto the pitch looking like a team that’s got no shot. But when the opening whistle screeches, they’ll come alive and do anything – just about anything – to embarrass the Revolution, with Slyde as their witness.

And we all know why: D.C. has nothing to lose. Nothing. They’re in the basement, they’ve only scored six goals (a total the Revolution nearly equaled in last Sunday’s game alone) this year, they haven’t won since winter, their best player’s picture is on the back of a milk carton, and their defense – and we use the term “defense” in the most liberal sense – might as well be a quartet of doormen. Clearly, the Beltway Boys have seen better days.

Conversely, all of the above is exactly what makes D.C. so – dare we say it? – dangerous. By now, the style points are out the door. The fancy football, and any blueprints to bring it to Foxborough, are crumpled up in Ben Olsen’s wastebasket. Make no mistake: This is a D.C. team that will do whatever it can to squeeze a point from the rising Revolution.

And they have the players to do it, rest assured. Dwayne DeRosario, for all is struggles, didn’t just forget how to play soccer. He is one moment of brilliance away from emerging out of the shadows. Chris Pontius still knows where to make the runs, and how to put one past a helpless goalkeeper. Bill Hamid still has the ability to lower the gate on the best offenses. And Ben Olsen – shoot, the second-best dressed head coach in the conference (behind Jay Heaps, of course) guided many of these souls to the cusp of an MLS Cup last year.

Right now, their season is doomed. The pundits are penning the obituaries. The climb out of the cellar is getting steeper every week. Heck, even the rats at RFK Stadium are packing their bags. D.C. has to do something – anything – to keep it from getting out of hand. Or at least even more out of hand. And they have to do it really soon.

But that sense of growing desperation may also be their greatest asset. They are that much more dangerous because, like Amanda Bynes and so many of her fellow child star burnouts, they just don’t give a darn. Try them. They’ll do it.

Since Jay Heaps took the coaching reins two years ago, a number of motivational phrases were tacked up to the walls of the Revolution locker room. Food for thought as the players get ready for training, sweat it out in the weight room or prepare for gameday. But for all the wisdom that Mike Krzyzewski or Michael Jordan may have, the best piece of advice for the surging Revolution may just be this:

“Beware the club that has nothing to lose.”

You’ve got nothing to lose, brilliant readers, and everything to gain by taking a gander at this week’s set of questions. So let’s dive right in, with as much reckless abandon as possible.

1. Will Kelyn Rowe return to the starting XI? So much for the sophomore slump. The baby-faced assassin, or assist man, if you will, is on top of the league’s helper chart with Graham Zusi. This despite the fact that Rowe has played 318 fewer minutes. In essence, the Sporting K.C. midfielder has played five full games’ worth of minutes more than Rowe, and yet Rowe is right there with him. Last week’s sensational performance off the bench didn’t just open Goal of the Week discussions: it opened the conversation for additional minutes (i.e. a spot in the starting XI). But if Heaps wants to keep Rowe central – where he’s played especially well this year – he’ll be playing near Scott Caldwell, which would give Heaps a particularly inexperienced (not to mention vertically challenged, if you throw in Lee Nguyen) look in the middle of the park. If Heaps elects to go with Kalifa Cisse, expect to see Rowe in the XI. But if Caldwell gets the nod at defensive midfielder, and Nguyen remains central, then Rowe probably comes off the bench again.

2. Will the shutout streak remain in tact when blows his whistle? You have the like the Revolution’s chances in this one, which can only mean one thing: you should worry. D.C.’s offense might be in zombie mode, but we all know that zombies are hard to kill. We’ve all seen what Dwayne DeRosario is capabale of, namely, thrusting daggers into defending backlines. Chris Pontius is one good pass away from ripping up a clean sheet. And Lionard Pajoy…well, Lionard Pajoy can reach out of the grave and come alive at a moment’s notice. Ditto for Carlos Ruiz. Seriously, that dude is just one of those guys who’s best skill is looking incapable, even if he truly is incapable at times. If you digest the statistics and stare really hard at the standings, the Revolution should be able to make quick work of the D.C. attack. However, it wouldn’t be surprising if, somehow, D.C. finally found its scoring boots, and made Bobby Shuttleworth pick a ball or two out of his net on Saturday.

3. Can the Revolution overcome their first half possession woes? Last week, we saw the Revolution unhooked the velvet rope for the Galaxy in the middle of the field, and nearly paid for it dearly. With Juninho and Marcelo Sarvas running the show, the Galaxy looked poised to punch one past Shuttelworth. It was a dicey 45 minutes that could’ve ended very badly for the hosts. True, the possession stat meant little when Diego Fagundez and Saer Sene played a little give and go in the 33rd minute to open the goalscoring. Yet, at the same time, the Revolution also have to thank their lucky stars that Shuttleworth and some suspect finishing conspired against the Galaxy. As poor a form as D.C. may be employing, the Revolution can’t afford to sleepwalk through another first half and expect to somehow squeeze a goal out of it again.

4. How long can Diego Fagundez continue his torrid run? At first blush, Saturday looks very much like the kind of game in which the talented teen could probably equal his season goal total (5) in the first 45 alone. D.C.’s shoddy defense hasn’t bothered the stop much of anything this season, and as a result, Bill Hamid, bless his heart, has been thrown to the wolves far too often. So, it stands to reason that with Sene, Juan Agudelo and Lee Nguyen all on the field, Fagundez will probably make it five for five this weekend, which would, incidentally, tie him with Clint Dempsey for the second-longest scoring streak for a Revolution player (Wolde Harris scored in seven straight in 2000). Yet, even if Fagundez doesn’t find the back of the net, expect him to play a supporting role, especially with the aforementioned attacking catalysts on the field.

5. What kind of game will it be? Here’s the situation: D.C. has quality players, but those players aren’t playing quality soccer. They aren’t a club that’s prone to fouling, or throwing an elbow into the cheekbone of the opponent’s best player. But we’ve seen this movie before: low-quality teams often come to Gillette Stadium intent on turning the game into disjointed affair. That means fouling (judiciously or brazenly, take your pick) time-wasting and slow, sleep-inducing soccer. If the Revolution go small in the middle of the park, and start Caldwell, Rowe and Nguyen, expect a lot of extracurricular activity – but the kind that doesn’t get you mentions in the local paper. Expect D.C. to embrace any opportunity to make it an unbearably wretched game. D.C. doesn’t want this to be a pretty game. No, they want it to be ugly. Uglier than those new Liverpool kits.

 

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About Brian O'Connell

Brian O'Connell serves as editor and staff writer at New England Soccer Today. He's also the Revolution beat writer for ESPNBoston.com, and is Officer at Large for the North American Soccer Reporters. He's contributed to The Associated Press, The Canadian Press, and has been featured on MLSSoccer.com & RevsNet.com. Follow him on Twitter: @BrianOConnell21 or e-mail him at BOConnell21@aol.com