What happens when you get one side who will be playing their third match in a week and another that is still seeking their first road point of the 2017 Major League Soccer season? Why, an interesting match of course! At least that is what both New England Revolution and D.C. United supporters will hope will happen on Saturday night when their two sides do battle at Gillette Stadium (7:30pm EST MLS Live, CSN-NE, NewsChannel 8).
Although the two sides have had many epic affairs through the years the D.C.-New England rivalry has flown a bit under the radar. Perhaps it is due to their mutual disdain for all things New York but the D.C.-New England never have received the panache or the hyperbole that is generally associated with a derby match. The results indicate a different story. Despite D.C. going unbeaten against New England in their last five matches they hold only a slender 32-26 advantage in terms of all-time wins. There have also been six draws, one of which was a 0-0 affair last March.
Injuries and tired legs may play a significant role in this match. United will be without starting center-back Steve Birnbaum (concussion) and midfielder Patrick Nyarko (hamstring) and likely Nick De Leon (abdominial). Birnbaum and De Leon sustained their injuries in the club’s 2-0 loss to the New York Red Bulls on Saturday while Nyarko’s injury prevented him from playing in the match. Those injuries coupled with the loss of midfielder Rob Vincent (left knee meniscus) leave United very thin in the midfield and on the bench. The lone bright spot of this week’s injury report is that forward Patrick Mullins is now Questionable for Saturday’s match. Mullins has missed the last three matches due to a hamstring injury. Although he may see minutes on Saturday night, look for Jose Guillermo Ortiz (one goal in 2017) to start.
Meanwhile New England have their own issues with the side having just finished a 0-0 draw with the San Jose Earthquakes on Wednesday night. Coach Jay Heaps played a veteran heavy team on Wednesday and seemed to have more than a few chances at breaking the deadlock. However, as Prost reporter Julian Cardillo noted, the side should be bothered by their inability to score. Aside from their 5-2 thrashing of Minnesota United last month the club has had their troubles at clicking in the attacking third. Forward Kei Kamara has scored just once this season and in general has not had the best of luck with D.C. in the past, only scoring three goals in twelve matches. Whether Jay Heaps chooses to go with Kamara or with a combination of Juan Agudelo and Lee Nguyen up top will play a large role in their success on Saturday night.
But given United’s current issues with staying healthy the Revolution have to be licking their chops at the thought of facing their wounded foe. Without Birnbaum and De Leon United coach Ben Olsen will likely turn to Kofi Opare and Sean Franklin. Opare saw his first game action last week of the 2017 season while Franklin has shifted between the bench and center-back serving in a platoon role with Bobby Boswell. The two are certainly capable of holding their own, having proven throughout their respective lengthy MLS careers. But the Revolution like to expand and contract their attack with the aim of throwing off their opponent. Whether this back four can handle the passing of Agudelo and Kelyn Rowe is another question/
The one spot to keep an eye on is down the left flank. Without Nyarko, Olsen is going to have a difficult choice to make between Sebastian Le Toux and Lamar Neagle. If he chooses to go with Le Toux look for D.C. to play a much more controlled measured style with Taylor Kemp making the occasional overlapping run. However, they could stick with their bread and butter with Neagle and Loyd Sam using their speed to break open the Revolution defense. Right-back Andrew Farrell is one of the strongest defenders in MLS and given that United may be at a size disadvantage Olsen may opt to go with Le Toux and use Neagle late.
To get Luciano Acosta chances against the Revs United should look at tape from what Cubo Torres. Torres two weeks ago had several quality attacking chances against the Revolution, using his work off the ball to get behind defenders who were not as quick as him. The Revolution center-back pair of Benjamin Angoua and Antonio Mlinar Delamea looked better against the Quakes but still seemed to be working out the kinks. Acosta against NYCFC showed that he can pick apart defenses that are not working in unison. If he gets a chance early New England may find themselves in a hole.
Of course one cannot talk about both of these sides without mentioning crosses into the box. Kemp and New England left-back Chris Tierney are two of the best in the league at laying in crosses for their teammates to finish off. Both are capable of delivering of dangerous attacking chances and very often cause panic for defenses. Goalkeepers Cody Cropper and Bill Hamid will have their hands full on Saturday night. For those who enjoy goalkeepers making spectacular saves will certainly enjoy this match as both have a flair for the dramatic.
Both sides were certainly enter this match feeling as if points can be had. The question: can either get the full three. If New England can finish off their attacking chances then it may be a long night for a beleaguered D.C. defense. But United have proven time and time again that when they appear to be at their weakest that they can still pull off a result. But it is going to be a grind which for these two sides is par for the course.