United, Revs fighting to the finish
It's eighth place vs. ninth place on ESPN2 this weekend when D.C. United visit the New England Revolution (4 p.m. ET). Normally, this game wouldn't be much to shout about, but since Steve Nicol has done a lot of shouting recently (about Sigi Schmid's dismissal from the Los Angeles Galaxy when he had them in first place), let's talk about him. I mean, if they can fire the first-place coach, being next to last must make Nicol pretty nervous. As Nicol, who was quite upset over Schmid's release, said last week, "The only thing we know in this job is that we are never safe."
The New England Revolution have had a tough season so far, and as the Revolution enter the most important stretch of the season, I'm not sure they're ready for it. Though the Revs have a history of putting together late-season runs. I don't think they're likely to make a push this year.
The Revs have had their share of injuries, and they haven't been able to string together a solid run of games that could get them away from the bottom. They're not a bad team, but they lack consistency, confidence and, to be quite honest, fitness. If soccer games were 100 minutes long, the Revs might have lost every one this season. This team, which seems to run out of gas in the later stages of games, can't afford to run out for the remaining eight games of the year. There's no more time to complain. All they can really do is play and hope to get results because results will get them in the playoffs. Results will also make Nicol less nervous.
D.C. United is not in the best position either. With a loss this weekend, United could find themselves trolling the bottom, which is a place not many expected them to be. With frequent lineup changes, a shuffled back line, the departure of Bobby Convey and an injury to Ryan Nelsen, it's been very difficult for Peter Nowak to assemble a team capable of finding itself closer to the top. Goalkeeper Troy Perkins has been a pleasant surprise, but let's face it: defensively, D.C. United is simply not good enough to play with three in the back.
Offensively, I think it's pretty clear, with Jaime Moreno and Alecko Eskandarian's form of late, that D.C. will always compete. Convey's departure has made it possible for Nowak's understudy Freddy Adu to play in the midfield, a much easier place to play. Freddy is getting more minutes, more time on the ball and more confidence, and I think D.C. United has looked better lately because of Freddy's performances.
For Nowak, figuring out a way to have Moreno, Eskandarian and Adu on the field at the same time has got to be his objective. They have been a far more productive team with all three of them on the field rather than having one replace another. Of course, that challenge could be especially difficult this weekend with Eskandarian having rolled his ankle in training this week.
What happens in this game could be the deciding factor for the loser. Winning is imperative for both teams. For that reason, watching the eighth-place team take on the ninth-place team might just be the best game on the schedule. I'm glad it's going to be on TV.
Summer's over: The games are going to get better. The weather will be a little bit cooler and a little more conducive to faster-paced soccer and there will be more energy in each game due to the fact that every team is fighting for a playoff spot.
Under the current league structure, it's nice to get off to a good start, but playing well in the fall is what it's all about. As the season winds down, the teams who have managed to stay somewhat healthy through the summer and have put themselves in a position to get into the playoffs will be the ones who have a chance to find form in the most important part of the season.
Still, as we get closer to the end of the season and crowning a new champion, don't be surprise to see if the eventual title holder is nowhere near first place right now. San Jose is going to make a run, Chicago is going to figure things out, Los Angeles has a new reason to play, and the MetroStars have an opportunity to make history. Even though the weather's getting cooler, the season's just starting to heat up.
Former U.S. international forward Eric Wynalda scored the first goal in MLS history, and is currently the analyst on RadioShack's Soccer Saturday on ESPN2. He can be reached at email@example.com. He will be inducted in the National Soccer Hall of Fame during the Oct. 9-11 weekend. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Major League Soccer or its clubs.