New England Soccer Today

Five Questions: Revolution vs. Dynamo

Lee Nguyen and the Revolution attack need to do better against the Dynamo this week (Photo: Kari Heistad/

Lee Nguyen and the Revolution attack need to do better against the Dynamo this week (Photo: Kari Heistad/

Sometimes, you just get the sense that certain games mean more to certain people.

Now, before we go any further, this isn’t to suggest that Saturday’s midseason tilt against the Dynamo means little to some inside the locker room. By no means. Everyone will be ready. The stakes surrounding Revolution-Dynamo, round 2, week 18, are enough to render the pre-game smelling salts temporarily obsolete.

But from an outsider’s perspective, it seems that Saturday night means more than just a mid-season clash against a conference rival to Jay Heaps. It’s more than that. It’s some respects, it seems personal.

We all know the backstory, of course. As a player, Houston is the club that stood in the way of Heaps and his teammates raising the MLS Cup trophy not once, but twice. We know that Heaps, who saw his last-ditch penalty stopped by Pat Onstad in the 2006 final, has been anxiously waiting for a game like this. A game against the Dynamo brimming with playoff implications.

And it’s not just the Revolution-Dynamo MLS Cup storyline, either. It’s the fact that Heaps wasn’t just tabbed to coach a random MLS club some 20 months ago. No, he took the reins on his club. A club that had faltered badly since he announced his retirement two years previous

Of course, Heaps harbors no ill will toward Dominic Kinnear, the players, and not especially to his good friend, Dynamo assistant Steve Ralston. We know this. We know that Heaps has always respected the Dynamo, and that probably isn’t going to change anytime soon.

But there’s no doubt that Heaps, perhaps more than anyone else in the Revolution locker room, save for maybe Matt Reis, wants payback. He wants to return the favor for the heartache that Houston delivered in 2006 and 2007. You might say that Superliga in 2008 may have eased some of the hurt, but at last check, Superliga went the way of shootouts and reverse game clocks.

The past may be dead, for sure, and it’s hard to imagine that Heaps stays up late at night dwelling on the Dynamo during the offseason. But when they show up on the schedule, two points above the Revolution in mid-July, you have to think that the game becomes more than just a game. It’s a chance to right a wrong, to heal a wound, and to claim a sense of redemption, not only for himself or his teammates from the 2006-07 years, but for the fanbase, as well.

The middle of the season is upon us indeed, and what better way to ring in the final 17 games with a fresh batch of questions?

1. Will the Revolution attack find its groove against Houston? Last week’s 2-0 win over San Jose was certainly a nice way to put the breaks on a worrisome, three-game winless streak. An early goal, a late goal, shots galore, and another clean sheet courtesy of the Revolution defense probably made it easier to sleep on Saturday night. But given the number of gift-wrapped opportunities they left on the front step, Heaps wasn’t about to let his players off the hook easily. Oh, he was happy about the defense. They played well by anyone’s standards. But the offense – well, let’s just say they missed their opportunity to do what Sharknado did to Fin’s against a tired, injured and call-up depleted ‘Quakes. This week, the Revolution can’t afford to stay in second gear. Not with a rested opponent, and most certainly not against one of the stingiest defenses in the league. Sure, the Revolution may want to rip a page out of last week’s win by scoring soon after the opening whistle, a la Saer Sene’s 13th minute goal, which probably would’ve been his second of the game had he converted his first chance in the 2nd minute. However, the attack must be sharper in the final third this time around. They have to put their chances away if they want to make Tally Hall and his Houston teammates losers. Literally.

2. Can Jose Goncalves and Stephen McCarthy resume their dominance in the back? This is not Fantasyland, and under that premise, Adam Jahn is not Chris Wondolowski, and Alan Gordon, a proven performer in his own right, is not Steven Lenhart. In other words, the Revolution back four did not face a full-strength San Jose last week. This week, the test becomes a little tougher. Now, granted, Boniek Garcia and Giles Barnes aren’t Will Bruin or Brad Davis. But they will almost certainly pose more of a challenge to the Goncalves-McCarthy partnership. To blanket both, the imposing duo must think and act quickly, and avoid the mistakes they made in Vancouver a few weeks ago. They need to communicate and stay in tune with Scott Caldwell, who has to play much bigger than his 5-8 frame against an attack that regularly carved through the Union defense last week. The evidence suggests that the Dynamo will find more opportunities than their former namesake last week, but the Revolution center backs have already proven this season that they’re capable of disposing the two-time defending conference champs.

3. Does Chad Barrett get another start after last week’s performance? He certainly deserves strong consideration, no? Last week, he tore a hapless San Jose defense to shreds, burning them on and off the and with better aim, probably would’ve scribbled his name on the scoresheet. This week, against a couple of powerful center backs in Bobby Boswell and Eric Brunner, the Revolution need a banger up front. A battering ram, if you will. And who better than the grizzled veteran to do lay down the lumber? But it’s not just his ability to win balls and boldly go where few forwards go. It’s the fact that he doesn’t find himself on the wrong page when the attack advances, something that a certain player whose name rhymes with Berry Jengtson tends to do. Of course, we all know how much Heaps values the players’ efforts in training, so there’s no such thing as a good performance earning an automatic start the following week. However, it seems pretty apparent that the Revolution’s number 9 should be in the 9 spot on Saturday’s starting XI.

4. Is this the game that Diego Fagundez resumes his goalscoring prowess? It has the potential to be, that’s for sure. While Heaps has sung the praises of Houston’s brash back four, this seems like the kind of game that the teenager resumes his goalscoring adventures. For starters, we’ve already seen Diego slice through this defense using a cunning, well-timed run, often the perfect antidote against brute strength. Yes, the 51st minute strike came with Boswell in the locker room after he was ejected for a head-butt on Dimitry Imbongo. And yes, playing 10-v-10 opens up a little more operating room. He may have gone 88 minutes last week without firing a single shot, but the last time that happened (Apr. 20 vs. New York), he followed it up by putting one in the back of the net (Apr. 27 vs. Philadelphia). Just saying, it wouldn’t be surprising if history repeats itself on Saturday.

5. What would three points for the hosts mean on Saturday night? Short-term, it’s huge. It’s a classic six-point swing for the winner, and let’s face it: this is the kind of game that often tells us whether a club is a contender, or a pretender. It’s still early, yes. There’s plenty of soccer to play before we start carving our pumpkins and raking the leaves. But holding a playoff spot during the second half of the season – even if it is the very early portion of that half –  is something we haven’t seen since the days of Mauricio Castro, Emmanuel Osei and Kheli Dube. Heaps has never been one to look too far ahead – after all, it only takes a few weeks for the landscape to be turned upside down in Don Garber’s playground. But a win – a second half win against a formidable conference rival, at that – would certainly do wonders for their playoff ambitions before embarking on a tough, three-game road swing to close out the month of the July.

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