MLS New England Revolution Soccer Weekend

Soccer Weekend: DC is improved, but is thoroughly beatable

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When DC United come to Gillette Stadium for the 2021 Revolution home opener Saturday night (8 p.m., WSBK myTV38, myRITV), Revs fans — and yes, there will be fans in the stands, thank Christ — will find a United squad under new management, a squad that has a healthy mix of newcomers and some of the old standbys, and a new philosophy and playing style.

Gone, of course, is Ben Olsen, the longtime manager of United, one of the lone managers sacked in 2020. Insert new gaffer Hernán Losada of Belgium, who is looking to re-invigorate the Black and Red. It looks like he has them going in the right direction, though to be fair, he’s only been in charge of one competitive match, that being last weekend’s 2-1 come from behind win over NYCFC at Audi Field, which we’ll talk about in a it.

Losada commented at halftime last Saturday about his team’s energy, and I have to say that DC is all motor. If there’s one thing I like about this DC side is that it will continue to run regardless of the situation, regardless of the score. They have the ability to spring a rather rapid counterattack, too; watching them attack NYCFC with impunity in film review was akin to watching Bob Ross turn smudges into beautiful skies; it’s that gorgeous, that vicious, of a counter.

But this is a team — and you all need to be aware of this — that is too cheeky in the attacking third (so many no-look kick attempts to teammates) that resembled more training ground attempts than something to do in-match, the defense has the tendency to be a tad disorganized (but will keep their shape on the counterattack) in the defending third, and — I hesitate to put this as a negative, but it can be if the Revolution are not aware — is a team that will like to get the ball forward with rapid pace; no longer are they a side-to-side team save in necessity when playing out the back.

Against NYCFC, DC United played a version of a 3-4-3 with three in the back line, four in the midfield, and a hodgepodge of three up top. Much like New England did last weekend, DC found itself on the back foot almost from jump street, even giving NYC’s Valentin Castellanos way too much room with which to work. Castellanos showed how peckish he was to get the season off on the right foot, and he nearly buried one some 70 seconds into the new season from some 25-30 yards away.

In short, the Revolution can find joy against the United defensive unit, especially if DC goes with three in the back and is overloaded. Switch the point of the attack and you’ll find that room to move.

One thing DC did well was keep its lines in the 3-4-3 moving backward toward goal, and one example of this, believe it or not, came when NYCFC went up by a goal to nil. The Pigeons switched the point of the attack from left to right, with plenty of room to maneuver on their right. NYC’s pace had DC hustling to get back, but the final ball caromed off newcomer center back Brendan Hines-Ike, an American on loan from Belgian side KV Kortrijk, and in the net. Some would call that unlucky.

But Hines-Ike got that one back as he equalized just after the half hour mark: off a throw-in and NYC pressure, the Black and Red fed Hines-Ike into space, and the 26-year-old Denver native buried the ball with an absolute brilliant strike.

Russell Canouse’s winner, though, was not the grand thing dreamed of by young footballers everywhere: NYC failed to mark him at the top of the 18 on a corner, and he buried it. If NYC marks better there, this game remains level.

A few other things about DC:

As usual, some nice physicality in the midfield typical of MLS sides.

The returners, of course, include some of the Usual Suspects like Yamil Asad, Edison Flores and his strong left, Julian Gressel, Junior Moreno and his powerful right, Canouse, Frederic Brilliant, Steve Birnbaum, and Bill Hamid in keep. Hamid missed Saturday through injury and Chris Seitz — who came to DC United via trade in the 2019 SuperDraft — deputized well. He has good awareness.

Some of the newcomers include Hines-Ike and Jovanny Bolivar, a Venezuelan striker, and Erik Sorga, who played 17 matches last year for DC and only scored one goal.

Expect United to play forward as the first option with positive passes. I only noted a handful of side-to-side passes when starting out the back. And expect a ton of pressing of the New England back line.

The cheekiness might have been too much, and against a stalwart defensive team, I wouldn’t be too concerned about it. If New England remains resolute, that shouldn’t be too much of an issue.

We’re wondering what the back line of the Revolution will look like Saturday night, especially with the Revs’ appeal of DeJuan Jones’ red card from last weekend failing on Thursday. Bruce Arena noted the team does have options for that left back position, including AJ De La Garza and newcomers Jon Bell and Christian Mafla.

Mafla did play a good hour or so with Revs II last weekend. In addition, Arnór Traustason is expected to have some sort of role in the home opener after missing the Chicago game in the Health and Safety protocols. Luis Caicedo is unavailable and is questionable with a lower body injury.

Congratulations to former Revs Homegrown midfielder Nicolas Firmino, who signed with USL League One side Union Omaha on Thursday.

Insert reminder here that Firmino played thirty minutes against one of the best teams in Europe twenty-three months ago and held his own. He’ll do fantastic in Nebraska.

Elsewhere around MLS this weekend:

One game on the docket tonight, and it’s nationally televised. Sporting Kansas City hosts Orlando City beginning at 7:30 p.m. ET on FS1.

On Saturday, NYCFC hosts FC Cincinnati in the Bronx, before Nashville hosts Montreal, Toronto hosts Vancouver, San Jose hosts Dallas (3:30 p.m. ET, Univision/TUDN), LAFC hosts Seattle (6 p.m. ET, ESPN), Atlanta hosts Chicago, Minnesota United hosts Real Salt Lake, Philadelphia hosts Inter Miami, Colorado hosts Austin FC, and Portland hosts Houston.

On Sunday, LA Galaxy hosts the Red Bulls (5:30 p.m. ET, FS1), before midweek sees the CONCACAF Champions League matches.

In USL Championship:

Only two matches on the docket as Louisville City hosts Atlanta United 2, and OKC Energy hosts FC Tulsa. Both of those matches are tomorrow.

In USL League One:

Three matches on the docket:

Greenville at Richmond
South Georgia at Omaha
Fort Lauderdale at North Texas

Enjoy the football, everyone.