This weekend will bear witness to a high-stakes matchup between the top two teams in the Eastern Conference, as second-place DC United travels to Gillette Stadium for the first time this season to face the first-place New England Revolution.
Last Time Out:
On April 5th, New England traveled to RFK stadium and left with a disappointing 2-0 loss. A Jose Goncalves own goal in the 43rd minute gave DC the lead. Forward Chris Rolfe added a tally of his own to seal the game in injury time.
DC currently sits behind New England in second place on 18 points through 11 games, an astounding accomplishment thus far for a team that served as the conference doormat last season.
Head coach Ben Olsen had a fantastic off-season, bringing in many well established MLS veterans to mesh with the young talent already in the ranks. Offensive acquisitions such as Eddie Johnson and Fabian Espindola, as well as the addition of Chris Rolfe last month, have helped a once-stagnant D.C. offense come alive in recent weeks.
In the back, new signings Bobby Boswell and Sean Franklin give D.C. stability and experience in an area it struggled greatly at last season. Goalkeeper Bill Hamid still looks strong and has the potential to one day be a fixture in net for the US National Team. The team’s win against New England in April seems to have been the launch pad for its climb up the Eastern Conference standings.
With the new look, DC shows some potential for the organization to rebound from many seasons of disappointment. On the flip side, Saturday’s game could prove to be New England’s biggest test at home so far this season.
Players To Watch:
Fabian Espindola: The Argentine has found his feet well in DC this season. With five goals and five assists, the former Real Salt Lake forward is relishing his new role in the United attack.
Espindola has always been a poacher and could create a bit of havoc in front of New England’s net. With good service coming in from Lewis Neal and Nick DeLeon, it’ll be tough for the Revolution back four to keep him off the scoresheet.
Chris Rolfe: The 31-year-old is another DC player adjusting to new surroundings. By all standards, Rolfe is certainly helping his team offensively. With three goals and three assists so far this season, the former Golden Boot winner is second on the team in scoring.
Rolfe picked up a goal and an assist in his team’s 2-0 victory over Houston midweek. An offensive tandem of Espindola, Johnson, and Rolfe is daunting for any team to face.
Eddie Johnson: Excluded from Jurgen Klinsmann’s preliminary World Cup roster, and handed a one-game suspension following last weekend’s match, Johnson has a lot to prove. The forward picked up has long-awaited first goal for DC United against Montreal, before picking up a red card late in the match.
Johnson provides a good deal of speed, if DC can play good ball over the off New England’s defense, he will be a more than capable of finishing.
Will New England Maintain its offensive form?
After such a dismal start to the season offensively, New England seems like it has picked up an entirely new core of attacking players. While that may not be true, the offense has sprung up from an interesting change in the lineup.
Patrick Mullins may in fact be the key to the recent success of New England. The rookie forward has been a real challenge for opposing defenses.
It simply comes down to Mullins’ ability to stretch a defense, and creating space for others in the attack. DC will need to focus on shutting down the middle of the field, effectively taking Mullins and fellow forward Teal Bunbury out of the attack.
Does Jay Heaps alter the lineup?
As injury woes start to subside for New England, Heaps is faced with some tough decisions.
New England is on an absolute tear, in solid form and reaping the benefits of favorable scheduling. It may not make sense to alter the lineup that has been on point recently.
Jose Goncalves will eventually be fully fit, as he has returned to training. Will Heaps bring him back into the fold immediately?
If he does, another question will arise with A.J Soares and Andrew Farrell both playing a solid brand of center back this season.
Saturday will be a matchup between two of the most surprising teams in the east this season.
New England and DC are on a roll right now. As World Cup break looms for MLS, the top of the Eastern Conference has seen a new breed of team rise to the top so far.
Both teams have seen changes come down from their respective front offices over the past few seasons.
New England’s youth has grown from leadership on and off the field; it is a prime example of managing efficiently at a low cost.
DC United may be taking a page from the Revolution. Over the winter, they made a slew of moves to acquire veteran players. However, that veteran core will be responsible for developing a great batch of young players like Nick DeLeon, Perry Kitchen and Bill Hamid, similar to what happened in New England recently.
Given the above, New England-DC United matchups could get very interesting in the coming years.
What Will Happen:
New England is just too good right now and with DC having a midweek game; it is hard to think the Revolution will drop a game at home.
New England 2-0