The New England Revolution and D.C. United will meet for the fifth time in Major League Soccer (MLS) playoff history on Wednesday at RFK Stadium in the Knockout Round.
So far United has the upper hand in this series that stretches back to 1997 with a (winsdraws-loss) 3-0-1 record. However, the two clubs have not faced each other in the postseason since 2006. New England earned their first victory at RFK Stadium in the playoffs with a narrow 1-0 on November 15th in the Conference Finals.
The Revs that year went on to lose in the MLS Cup Final against the Houston Dynamo 4-3 in penalties. However, that was eight years ago and currently the two clubs are entering this postseason a little shaken after enduring a rough campaign.
Before the season started, this matchup looked like a potential Eastern Conference Final showdown, instead it is now a knockout match. The Red and Black finished the campaign in fourth place and the Revolution finished in fifth. It is safe to say that both clubs had their fair share of bad stretches throughout the season.
United was once in first place in the East and in the race for the Supporters’ Shield. D.C. started the season 9-4-5 with a positive five goal differential; at home they were nearly unstoppable in the beginning: United went 7-3-1. However, after their 1-0 victory against Chicago on June 24th the Red and Black began to struggle.
For the rest of the season, D.C. went 5-2-9 and gave up 28 goals in the process. The first half of the season their defense only gave up 17. In the second half, D.C. finished with a negative seven goal differential. United was able to clinch their spot in the playoffs by grabbing two victories in October against the Chicago Fire and New York City FC. If it was not for those two games, D.C. might have missed the postseason.
The Revs on the other hand stumbled out of the gates 6-6-9. It was not until their 1-0 home victory on July 18th against NYCFC that their season turned around. Since that game, they have gone 8-2-3. However, in the final five matches of the season the Revs lost their grip again and finished the campaign 1-1-3. Their defense surrendered nine goals in five games. Yes, they scored five goals in that stretch, but those goals came against the Philadelphia Union, Fire and NYCFC.
It cannot come as a surprise that these two clubs failed to finish in the top three of their conference, since both of them had subpar records against the 12 playoffs teams. New England went 4-5-10 overall, but on the road the Revs were atrocious with an 1-0-8 record and allowing 24 goals while only being able to score eight. United was not any better as they went 6-4-9 and 2-2-7 on the road against the elite 12.
However, both D.C. and the Revs can scratch their disappointing season, since now they are just 90 minutes away from securing a date with the New York Red Bulls or Columbus Crew in the Conference Semifinals in November Before that can be realized though a winner must be decided between the two.
Even though the Revs have struggled over the years at RFK stadium (9-4-21 since 1996), they have a realistic chance of advancing. For starters, they finished the season with a 3-1 victory over NYC and D.C. ended with a 5-0 shellacking from the Crew.
If the Revs can strike early on Wednesday, they will put D.C. in a state of panic which will cause them to make mistakes. That type of scenario will benefit New England’s playmakers: Lee Nguyen, Kelyn Rowe, Jermaine Jones, Teal Bunbury and Diego Fagundez. Their quick foot work and passing ability will stretch the Red and Blacks defense. New England's forwards, Charlie Davies and Juan Agudelo, will have the space to be score and the two of them are more than capable of punishing United.
However, all this depends if the Revs score early and force D.C. to come out of their shell. The longer the game remains scoreless, the better D.C. has a chance of pulling through. The Red and Blacks offense is not known for showmanship or pace. They have to make the game into slugfest in the midfield to slow down the speedsters of New England.
That responsibility will go on Perry Kitchen. He will have to disrupt everything and make sure to minimize the Revs time on the ball. If he performs well, then Chris Rolfe, Fabián Espindola and Álvaro Saborío will need to convert their chances.
Espindola and Saborío were brought to D.C. for matches like this. They have championship experience with Real Salt Lake in 2009. RSL defeated the Los Angeles Galaxy in penalties to capture the franchise first cup. United head coach Ben Olsen will need them to lead the Red and Black past the Revs on Wednesday, because if they do not pull through then the inconsistent bench of D.C. will have too.
Prediction: D.C. United 1-3 New England Revolution
The Revs will score first and expose D.C. as the Crew did on Sunday. In result, United will have to search for the equalizer which will create pockets of space in the back for New England’s’ rapid counter to end the game.