By KEVIN KOCZWARA
Space and goals didn’t come easy for the New England Revolution’s opponents earlier this year. The Revolution prided themselves on defending in every phase of the game — from front to back. All 11 players on the field worked towards keeping a clean sheet, and they need to return to their early season form, which had them as the stingiest defense for much of season, against D.C. United this weekend if the Revs want to try and push for their first playoff berth since 2009.
“(We need to) refocus the commitment to defending as a unit — top to bottom — making plays when you need to make a play,” Revolution coach Jay Heaps said. “I felt that the other night (against Chicago) our offense lead to bad defense — poor offense in terms of a couple turnovers when we didn’t need to lead to heightened stress situations defensively. And I think we could have managed that a little bit better. We look at it as an entire unit and where we can be better.”
New England’s defense had it in the driver’s seat for a playoff birth, but in recent weeks as the defense has gone a bit awry, so has its playoff hopes. If the Revs want to go back to the playoffs for the first time since 2009, the team defense needs to return.
NOT THE SAME D.C. UNITED
With D.C. United coming to town the Revolution need to get back to their earlier defensive form because, although United is out of playoff contention, this is not the same D.C. attack the Revs saw earlier this season.
“I think they’re a very dangerous team. I think every team in this league goes through phases where of they can beat anybody,” Revolution coach Jay Heaps said. “We understand the ebbs and flows of the league — when things are going your way, when things aren’t going your way, and how quickly things can go against you and how quickly you can turn it around.
“When you look at D.C. and I don’t ever look at when you’re in the moment of breaking down film and breaking down what a team does well or where you can exploit them has nothing to do with first second, last, placement doesn’t matter,” Heaps continued. “It’s what they bring and what they do that can hurt you or that you can take advantage of. When I look at D.C. I look at a team that has evolved or the last few times we’ve played them.”
New England last played D.C. on July 27 and beat them, 2-1, at RFK Stadium. The other meeting this year ended in a scoreless draw. But this time D.C. comes with some new faces and their full compliment of attacking players.
Dwayne De Rosario and Chris Pontius are healthy again and forming a solid partnership with Luis Silva, who has changed the dynamic of the United attack with his pace, tricks and movement. And, probably most importantly for United, Perry Kitchen has found himself a solid partner in the midfield in Lewis Neal.
PLAING WITHOUT PLAYOFF PRESSURE
D.C. has long been out of the playoff hunt, which is something that worries the Revolution. United will be playing for itself and pride, and that’s worrisome to New England because it’s a team without anything to lose.
“It’s a team that can’t play in the playoffs, so I think they will play more relaxed and if you play more relaxed it’s tough for the opponent because the opponent, we, need something and they don’t really need anything,” Revolution defender and captain Jose Goncalves said. “I think it will be an open game and for sure they want us to fail. They are coming here with the mentality to make us [not ] play our game and defend very well and they have a team that can score some goals.”
While D.C. is playing for pride, there is no mistaking that New England knows how important three points at home would be while they’re fighting for a playoff berth for the first time since 2009.
“I think we know the stakes,” Heaps said. “I think everyone understands where we are, where we are in the season and how important three points is.”
NEWS AND NOTES
- Heaps wouldn’t let on which goalkeeper he was going to start on Saturday when asked after practice on Thursday. Matt Reis had been in good form after being named the starting goalkeeper again after the Revs 3-0 loss to Kansas City on Aug. 10, but he was forced to miss last week’s game because he was suspended after getting a red card against Montreal on Sept. 8. Bobby Shuttleworth has played well when he’s started for the Revolution and has nine shutouts. He was also between the goalposts for the Revs previous two meetings with D.C. Heaps admitted he has two starting goalkeepers and the choice will come down to either strategy or who he feels will bring an added element to the team come Saturday.
- New England is two points behind both the Philadelphia Union and Chicago Fire, who are tied for the fifth and final spot in the Eastern Conference. A Revolution win would keep them in contention for a playoff spot while a loss and and any points for Chicago and Philadelphia would make the whole difficult at best with just a handful of games left in the season.
- Saturday’s match is the 62nd all-time, regular-season meeting between the Revolution and D.C. United. D.C. leads the all-time, regular-season series between the two clubs, 28-24-9.
- This will be the 70th overall meeting between the two clubs, who have played four MLS Cup Playoff matches and four U.S. Open contests
- The Revs are 15-10-5 at home against D.C. all-time.
What do you make of these notes? Do you see D.C. coming in and upsetting New England because they don’t have the playoffs to contend for? Will New England turn its defense around to what it was earlier in the season? Who would you start in goal for the Revs?
Share your thoughts below.