If there’s one important lesson the Revolution have come to learn in the past 365 days, it’s this: Adapt or die.
Last summer, the squad came within a game of .500 before it was roughed up and outmuscled by clubs keen on throwing the Revolution off their game. The damage sent them into a 10-game tailspin and dashed their postseason hopes.
Since then, the Revolution gradually have evolved into a side that can weather the elbows, forearms and fouls just as well they can play a smooth and creative game. For proof, just look at last week’s gritty 2-0 win over the disheveled and desperate Crew.
“I thought it was a good, versatile win for us,” Revolution coach Jay Heaps told reporters on Wednesday. “It wasn’t our best soccer, by any stretch, but we scored on a set piece, we battled until the 90th minute and the game went our way.”
Similarly, the Revolution will have to recognize early what kind of game the bottom-feeding D.C. United will bring to the RFK Stadium pitch on Saturday.
For all of D.C.’s well-documented struggles, the last-place club remains somewhat of an enigma to the Revolution, especially in the wake of their last two matchups.
On June 8, the United came into Gillette Stadium losers of nine in their last 10, and surprisingly put the lid on a Revolution attack that gobbled up nine goals in its previous three games. The final scoreline read 0-0, and with better precision, D.C. could have tilted the board in its favor.
Nearly three weeks later, D.C. took it a step further in Open Cup play by grabbing a shocking 3-1 quarterfinal victory over a Revolution offense that had scored nine goals in its last two tournament matches. So much for D.C. acting as the proverbial doormat.
“They’re obviously a team that can get some results,” Revolution goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth told reporters on Wednesday. “We can’t think about what they’ve done so far. They’ve got some good attacking players and some dangerous guys, so we need to go in there ready to play and be focused and try to get three (points).”
D.C. coach Ben Olsen certainly has some weapons on his squad, which boasts two former MVPs (Dwayne DeRosario and Carlos Ruiz), as well the potent Chris Pontius and Lionard Pajoy. All four have shown they can parlay defensive lapses into points on the board.
But scoring goals has been anything but easy for D.C. this season. Through 20 games, the talented club has only nine goals to show for its efforts. Nevertheless, Shuttleworth knows that the key to avoiding another disappointment against D.C. starts with the players in front of him.
“We’ve been able to get some good (defensive) pressure from our forwards,” Shuttleworth said. “Our midfielders have been in some good spots (too), and it makes it predictable for us in the back.”
But even though D.C. has already shown it can match the Revolution on the offensive and defensive fronts, midfielder Kelyn Rowe is ready for the kind of gritty game that unfolded in Columbus last week.
“We say it before every game -- it’s a fight first,” Rowe told reporters on Wednesday. “We have to make sure we win our individual battles, as well as the team battle.”
The way the Revolution react to those battles will be interesting to watch on Saturday. Heaps’ side sits two points shy of fifth place, and a win could be enough to bypass Dynamo for that final playoff berth.
Even so, the postseason picture will be the furthest thing from Heaps’ mind when he brings his squad onto the pitch at RFK Stadium on Saturday.
“I’ve been saying it for a while, but for us right now, it’s just one game at a time,” Heaps said. “We’re still a club that needs to grind (out) results. We need points, and we need to find a way to get them.”