D.C. United looks to get back on track against a contentious rival
The “always combative” nature of matches between D.C. United and the New England Revolution extends to the early days of each franchise’s history, United Coach Ben Olsen explained Friday as he ruminated about the classic meetings between the teams over the past two decades. That shared history adds a layer of intrigue to Sunday night’s match at RFK Stadium, a nationally televised affair that carries important implications for the Eastern Conference’s top two teams.
“We’ve always had great games against New England,” Olsen said after Friday’s practice session.
United (8-5-4), which dropped its second straight match last weekend with a 1-0 setback at Orlando City, sits atop the Eastern Conference standings with 28 points. Despite posting one victory since May 2, the Revolution (6-4-6) remainsin second place with 24 points and can tighten the race with a win Sunday.
Following Sunday’s match, United will embark on a four-game trip and won’t return to RFK Stadium until July 26. The relentless pace of the team’s schedule continued this week. On Wednesday, United pulled out a 3-1 victory in a U.S. Open Cup match at Pittsburgh. The win came with mostly reserves, but as the second half of the MLS regular season arrives, it added yet another difficult wrinkle to the team’s training regimen.
“We haven’t had a whole lot of fully organized team training. Just with the Open Cup game, coaches are gone and guys are gone and back and forth. It’s just getting our mind right more than anything,” United defender Bobby Boswell said. “I feel like it’s more about us when we’re at home. It’s not really about the other team.”
United came away with a 1-1 draw against New England nearly a month ago — a disappointing result, Olsen said, after D.C. held a two-man advantage in the second half following two Revolution red cards. United forward Jairo Arrieta, who leads the team with five goals this season, provided the equalizer in the 80th minute of that game.
New England is winless in six of its last seven MLS matches, its only victory in that stretch coming with a2-0shutout of Chicago on June 13. The Revolution is led offensively by former D.C. United striker Charlie Davies, who through the first half of the season already has twice as many goals (six) as his previous two seasons combined with New England.
Olsen said Friday that he was encouraged with the defensive performance in the loss to Orlando City, which marked the return of defenders Taylor Kemp and Chris Korb after they missed two games each because of injury. Goalkeeper Bill Hamid also returned after a two-game absence with an undisclosed injury (he finished with four saves), and Olsen continued to trumpet the team’s improving health and depth after Friday’s practice session.
Kemp said he was comfortable in his return to the lineup against Orlando, which also presented him with an opportunity to read just toa pace of play that can’t be replicated in practice.
“We are in a good place, but we feel that we should be in a better place than we are. We think we can have more points than we have right now. We’re a group that always wants to move forward,” Kemps aid.
Midfielder Chris Pontius (hip) and defender Sean Franklin (ankle) are both listed as questionable, although Olsen said Friday that Pontius is healthy enough to be considered for the 18-man lineup this weekend. Headded that Franklin is still “slow,” but United has “more options and more threats” Sunday than it did a month ago when the two teams squared off at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass.
Olsen was disappointed that United didn’t pull out a win in that match, although it was the 10th drawin series history and the latest example of how closely contested the regional rivalry has become. United owns a 29-26 all-time series lead (the teams split two games last season).
“It’s nice that we’re both at the top and are going to have a nationally televised game to see who the better team is on the day,” Olsen said.