MLS preview: NE Revolution tweaks vs. DC United Wayne Rooney reunion tour

Well, I admit I didn’t expect last week’s 3-0 win in Orlando with a shorthanded New England Revolution team. Hands down, you weren’t either.

But now the waits to come out and beat DC United today at home at 7:30 p.m. is incredibly high – simply put, the Revs should get three points today and need three points if they want to continue their progression in the standings towards a playoff spot.

The adjustments Bruce Arena rolled out last week were frankly sensational. Some were solid tactical decisions while others were just good individual performances. Seth has already done a post breaking down the objectives, so go read that for the details on the Polster and Kaptoum strikes in particular, but I wanted to briefly go over a few things that I’ve been working on well and will probably revisit with the Revs . injury list.

First off, despite last week’s 4-2-3-1 line-up card, the away show showed the Revs in a 4-3-2-1 “Christmas tree” look and I actually think that’s how it worked. Carles Gil dropped deep down the flanks to collect the ball, preserving the form of the midfield trio, and Tommy McNamara stayed high and wide and became a good partner and workhorse in tandem with Justin Rennicks who was essentially a single pressing forward.

It gave the Revs several overheads advantageous to Orlando and they did – for the first ball. Then Tommy Mac recovered in the attacking third and did what he normally does when performing a recovery – find a side pass to an open player.

Except that instead of that side ball launching an attack from midfield or opening up some of the pitch deeper, it ended up being the ball that decimated Orlando’s backline with a sublime run from Polster and a nice goal from Kaptoum.

The New England press has been very effective and credit to Rennicks in particular for some very solid changes at the top in the past two weeks. The focus for him has been more of a disruptive pest than a traditional lone striker, but he did his job in the first half against Toronto before making way for Vrioni and posting a 93% passing rating in Orlando . The Revs also adjusted a lot of their final drives into the box, going with more direct crosses lower and Jones almost found Rennicks for a close-range header but it missed by millimeters.

Now, the Revs were by no means dominant offensively in this Orlando game, because football is weird. But New England really limited Orlando to little to no quality looks on goal and generated and converted the game’s best chances with Matt Polster’s goal registering around 0.45 xG. So, even though Orlando was luckier in their chances, the Revs took the win in a resounding fashion. The one constant for the Revs in recent weeks has been defensively with Djordje Petrovic and the defense posting three straight shutouts but only five points to show for those efforts.

Against a DC team that couldn’t defend anyone this year, it’s important the Revs keep their foot on the pedal and get three more points today even without some of their front row players. I would expect to see Rennicks start again and maybe try to settle into a more traditional striker role and get more shots on target and depending on availability maybe paired with a few types of wingers more traditional wide ones. But until the Revs are fully healthy, I don’t expect them to generate any chance buckets and they’ll just have to be opportunistic with the ones they get. Especially against bad teams like today.

For DC, I want to give full credit to Wayne Rooney and the work he did at Derby County last season under difficult administration. If the Rams hadn’t been deducted 21 points, they would have finished mid-table but would have ultimately been relegated to League One. is a steep hill to climb out of the basement for any shot at playoff glory this year.

But maybe the Wayne Rooney project isn’t about making the playoffs this year, it’s about laying the groundwork for 2023. As always, we’re talking with our good friend Ryan Kefer of Solid black and red about the hiring of Rooney and the less than stellar season DC is having right now. As always, be sure to check out my answers to their questions on their site.

TBM: I think the work that Wayne Rooney did in Derby County under administration was just exceptional, what does the fan base think of the DCU coaching carousel?

RK: I think it’s less about the carousel and more about the messaging and the events (known or not) behind it; Hernan Losada’s freshman year saw the team play exciting football, but by the end of 2021 they were running on fumes so no real chance of making the playoffs was realistic. The season starts timidly, he gets fired and a LOT of people were upset about it; despite reports of frayed player strains and possibly microbial management of fitness and nutrition (check out Chris Seitz’s story on this earlier this year), sporting director Dave Kasper and GM Lucy Rushton released a statement (a rarity for the former) discussing the move and trusting the squad they have, but reassigning long-term assistant Chad Ashton to that spot after Ben Olsen’s departure was kind of kicking things off to some extent and the team’s play in the weeks leading up to Rooney taking over coaching duties makes the statement of faith (and roster turnover since Rooney supported) as a tiny bit dishonest.

The team trusted Losada, to the point that Designated Player and new All-Star Paul Arriola, who signed a long-term contract extension during the Covid shutdown, was shipped accordingly. And it went wrong. Rooney arrives at DC knowing he has an 18 month contract and knowing he left his last time with DC early, stops the organizational bleeding, and if they miss their next hire, it’s only going to make things worse when Losada was sacked.

TBM: 47 GA and -19 GD are among the worst in the league, is DC’s leaky defense the most pressing issue Rooney needs to address and what tweaks has the team already tried this year on the tactical or personal plan?

RK: They went to a 4231 (from a 343), which had the required acclimatization for the people involved, but I don’t think you can even answer that now; With Victor Palsson (signed from Schalke) available for selection and potentially making his debut on Saturday, the team may have had their smartest 6 for some time, but Brendan Hines-Ike has undergone season-ending surgery for the second year consecutive so team won don’t run first choice guys for balance.

They tend to invert midfield and let full-backs move forward, which had caused Andy Najar to regress slightly (injuries not helping) since his big return to right centre-back under Losada. They don’t have the firepower in those positions to make the serve dangerous thanks to, you guessed it, injuries, but I imagine one would see Ravel Morrison backing up and trying to get the ball through to forwards like Taxi Fountas (or getting Martin Rodriguez in a cast role) to tie things together.

TBM: Obviously signing Rooney isn’t a short term thing, but can he turn this team around for a late season push or could DC be focused on 2023 already?

RK: After this game, DC is playing LAFC midweek, comes home to host Philadelphia, then hits the road again to play Atlanta, then they end August at NYCFC. So 3 of their next 4 games are against the best teams (by points) in MLS right now. I know believing is a hell of a thing, but come on now. I know there are changes to be made in the offseason, but most of those who play against the Revs will be back with the team next year. Get the seeds now, go jumping next year.

Lineup/Injuries/Predictions/Etc

OUT: Hines-Ike, Brad Smith (end of season), Bill Hamid (main, potential return by the end of the season?), Adrien Perez, Chris Odoi-Atsem. Christian Benteke (visa)

Programming: David Ochoa; Andy Najar, Steve Birnbaum, Tony Alfaro, Kimarni Smith; Chris Durkin, Victor Palsson; Jackson Hopkins, Ravel Morrison, Martin Rodriguez; Michael Berry

Prediction: Looks like it’s still weird between these two, will go with a 2-2 draw.

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