Only six weeks have passed since the Revolution and D.C. United last met. But for Saturday’s rematch at RFK Stadium, an entirely new set of new challenges await the Revolution.
Since their Apr. 14 encounter -- which D.C. won 2-1 -- D.C. has gone from a struggling mid-table team (1-2-2, five goals) to a conference contender (7-4-3, 25 goals). And it hasn’t been by accident.
Reigning league MVP Dwayne DeRosario, who opened the season goalless in his first eight games, has scored five in the last six games. That, coupled with a league-leading seven-assists, has only fortified his reputation as one of the most dangerous players in MLS.
Another reason for D.C.’s resurgence has been the two-headed beast of Maicon Santos (six goals, one assist) and Hamdi Salihi (four goals). When both are banging on the door, it’s only a matter of time before either put the ball in the back of the net.
It would be easy to simply point at United’s best players when searching for the back story of their success. But credit must also be given to second-year head coach Ben Olsen.
In recent weeks, D.C. has endured a rash of injuries across the field. Yet, Olsen has been particularly astute in managing his lineup, as D.C. has gone unbeaten in seven of its last nine (6-2-1).
Suffice to say, the United side the Revolution face won’t be a replica of the one they faced six weeks ago. So what will the Revolution need to do to get a result at RFK on Saturday? Here are three keys they’ll need to focus on:
1. Find a way to contain Dwayne DeRosario. Under normal circumstances, Clyde Simms would be given the task of keeping tabs on the attacking midfielder. But with Simms listed as “out” due to ankle tendonitis, the responsibility will likely fall to versatile midfielder Ryan Guy, with a little -- or a lot -- of help from Shalrie Joseph. If there’s one challenge the Revolution will have to overcome, it’s keeping DeRosario -- who assisted on D.C.’s first goal in their Apr. 14 meeting -- quiet. Well, relatively quiet.
2. Get the ball to Saer Sene. If early-season form is any indication, the French forward has become the goalscorer the Revolution have searched for since Taylor Twellman retired in 2010. Whether it’s in the air, on the volley, or with the ball at his feet, Sene has proven that all he needs is the ball, and the net nearby. And with D.C.’s backline beset by injuries, the Revolution have to find a way to give Sene as many chances as possible.
3. Create opportunities on set pieces. For all the talk of the Revolution’s struggles on defensive set pieces, the fact is they haven’t been great on offensive ones, either. Still searching for its first set piece goal, the Revolution have the bodies to bang it through near the net. And with Chris Tierney’s apparent return to form on free kicks, the Revolution have to find a way to put one through via the set piece.
Although D.C. is a team on the rise, the Revolution aren’t exactly struggling themselves. Unbeaten in three of its last four (2-1-1), the Revolution have to approach this as a winnable game. Otherwise, it could be a long night in the Nation’s Capital for the guests.
Brian O'Connell is covering the Revolution for ESPNBoston.com. He is the co-founder of New England Soccer Today (www.nesoccertoday.com), which covers professional soccer within New England. He can be reached at BOConnell21@aol.com.