THURSDAY NIGHT PREVIEW
D.C. UNITED-NEW ENGLAND (ESPN2, 7 pm ET)
The ESPN2 Primetime Thursday series offers the first of three straight rivalry battles when New England travels to RFK Stadium to play the winless, pointless, and somewhat clueless D.C. United.
D.C. leads the all-time series 22-17-5. At RFK, United has won 14 of 22 games, with the Revs winning six and just two matches ending in a tie. Despite United returning home after a 1-0 loss in Columbus last week, New England (2-1-1) is probably not the ideal foe for D.C. (0-3-0) to cast off its troubles, since the Revs won at RFK last year, 2-1, by rallying from a 1-0 deficit with goals by Clint Dempsey and Taylor Twellman, and last Sunday triumphed smartly in Dallas, 1-0, despite a legitimate goal being disallowed.
"We haven't made too many mistakes, to be honest, so far," says Revs coach Steve Nicol, whose tolerance of errors skews toward absolute zero. "We lost to Chicago (1-0), and we should never have lost there in a million years. There's no justice in the game sometimes. We gave points away in Columbus (2-2) on a late goal. The win in Dallas was a good result, so we're pretty confident."
Nicol admits United's barren run to start the season may have eroded its confidence but doesn't plan to alter his approach to playing his club's fiercest rival. New England knocked United out of the postseason last year by scoring in the fourth minute through Twellman and riding out several frantic spells.
"I don't think for a second about anything other than they're going to come out of the blocks quick," says Nicol. "Absolutely. They haven't had the results they've wanted, but they have good players and things could turn both ways very quickly.
"We've got to make sure we stand up to that and if we get up the field and score that obviously makes a huge dent in their confidence, which is probably not high at the present time. If can do something early to knock them back a wee bit it will be important for us."
Twellman has knocked in four goals already this season to lead the league. His sharpness and ferocity is shared by many teammates, whether because of bitter memories of losing the last two MLS Cups or a greater burden in the wake of Dempsey's departure to the English Premier League.
"It's just a matter of having the core together," says Twellman of the Revs squad, some of whom have been together since Nicol arrived in 2002 and led the team to its first MLS Cup. "When we have our seven or eight guys together we're a good team. We play for each other, which is something I think goes a long way."
Nicol didn't release his lineup but acknowledged James Riley's fine play in the second half against Dallas as a replacement for Avery John could net him a start against D.C. on the left side of the Revs' three-man back line. Riley had strong outings in the middle prior to Michael Parkurst's recovery from a dislocated shoulder.
"I've decided but I haven't told anybody yet," said Nicol Wednesday evening after arriving in D.C. from Florida. "He's comfortable on the left, on the right, in the center, which is obviously great for me. He came in at halftime the other day and did great, and if he plays [against D.C] I'm sure he'll do great." Due to an unbalanced schedule mandated by an odd number of teams, D.C. and New England play only three times this season instead of the four meetings in past years. United will host two of the three games.
Getting D.C. in the midst of a bleak run might give the Revs an edge, albeit a slight one.
"We played them enough times to know if they're not playing with that swagger and confidence, the one thing they will be doing is fighting us," says Nicol, whose record against D.C. is 9-7-5. "Hopefully it's a great football game, but if it's not a great football game, you know you'll have a passionate game on your hands with both teams going after it."