Tampa Bay Sports Day

DC United hope for forceful effort against New England

After a forgettable performance in a 4-0 opening game loss at Kansas City, DC United’s home opener will be against a familiar foe, New England, which is equally beset with injuries and also lost their opening match on the road.

The Revolution will come into RFK Stadium after losing 1-0 at Los Angeles last weekend with only a handful of familiar faces from days gone by. However, the new faces have been interwoven into the same unrelenting, organized system that has been their hallmark during head coach Steve Nicol’s tenure.

Adam Cristman during his Revs days ©ASN

“The team has changed a lot but it’s still the same Stevie Nicol’s system,” said Adam Cristman (left), who spent his first two MLS seasons with the Revolution scoring 10 goals in 46 games. “They like to drop off, pressure well and then try to play and get the ball wide and get service into the box. That is how they built that team and it was really successful but the design is still the same, but it’s just different players.”

With Steve Ralston and Jay Heaps retiring, Jeff Larentowicz and Wells Thompson being traded to Colorado for Cory Gibbs and Preston Burpo and the ongoing injuries to goalkeeper Matt Reis, Shalrie Joseph, and Taylor Twellman, United will need to adjust to the individual characteristics of the current version of the Revolution. To complicate things, they will have to prepare while integrating several new faces of their own through injury, youth and discovery.

“They are always a tough, physical team. I don’t think they have really changed that much since the league began,” added United goalkeeper Troy Perkins . “ They have the same type of approach to the game-they are tough to play against. They will probably sit in and look to counter on us and get wide with a lot of crosses.”

United will be without Clyde Simms who started at right back in last week’s drubbing at Kansas City. He is out with a severe hamstring strain, an injury perhaps exacerbated by an early return from meniscus surgery on his knee in the pre-season. Marc Burch, the incumbent starter at left back is still sporting a boot on his foot after surgery and Devon McTavish is questionable with a groin injury.

United will however, get former Bolivian international Juan Pena in the starting XI after finalizing his T1 visa which will most likely push veteran Carey Talley to the right back spot. The long time incumbent there, Bryan Namoff is also still unavailable with complications from a concussion last year.

“He is a good leader, he’s experienced. He is not only a good technical player but he offers a lot of vocal help to everyone on the field,” said United assistant coach Kris Kelderman about Pena, 37, who unlike many of the previous South American acquisitions, speaks and understands English exceptionally well.

With these limited options, head coach Curt Onalfo turned to 17-year old rookie, a local product from Edison High School in Alexandria, VA for the first half against Kansas City. The United Youth Academy standout did a commendable job in his first professional experience in a tough situation, on a small field against a hungry team.

After a smooth pre-season with quantifiable quality results, United did not match the intensity and gritty mentality in the loss to the Wizards.

“With the changes going on there, they are really taking on a very edgy, hard working mentality and we had a pre-season where we were playing pretty good soccer but we hadn’t played against any teams that we were really edgy like that and that aggressive that put a lot of pressure (on us),” said Cristman, who spent an injury riddled 2009 with the Wizards after being acquired from New England in November 2008.

“After being with this team all through pre-season, that was a fluke. They came out with a good game plan and executed it well but we weren’t prepared for a fight like that.”

“We had early success in the pre-season and won the pre-season tournament…we basically felt like we could step out on the field and win. We have a young team,” said Onalfo. “We’ll get it right. We have a good group, a young group that is going to have some growing pains. We took a step backwards in the first game so we’ll use it as motivation all season long.”

Three of the four goals, including the opener just 9-minutes in, were mental or communication breakdowns that were absent through most of the latter half of the pre-season.

“Our mentality was such that we felt like we had arrived and we haven’t,” Onalfo continued. “If you look at the performance, we gave away soft goals and we hadn’t all pre-season, so that part was really unfortunate.”

With the stinging ego check behind them, Onalfo and the staff have ratcheted up the preparations and are not quite ready to blow the panic trumpet despite what looks to be another long list of absentees.

“I don’t see too many drastic changes. Even though we didn’t get the result we wanted we felt like we were very strong the three, four games previous to that in pre-season,” said Kelderman. “I don’t think it’s a situation where we panic and need to change things. We just need a better performance from the people that are on the field.”

“We had pretty smooth sailing all through pre-season with our performances but now its game time and we got to give it a little extra and approach a game a little more professionally and with a little more energy and attitude,” added Cristman.