|A rivalry renewed
||By Jeff Lemieux, Staff Writer & Online Host
Familiar foes New England and D.C. will meet for their 53rd regular-season clash on Saturday night at RFK Stadium
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Throughout the years, the names on the backs of the jerseys have changed.
But as long as the logo on the chest stays the same, the rivalry remains.
One of the league’s oldest and most bitter rivalries will resume on Saturday night at RFK Stadium, when the New England Revolution visits D.C. United for an early-season Eastern Conference clash. It will be the 53rd regular-season meeting between the two clubs, which represents the greatest total of matches the Revolution has played against any opponent.
While familiarity may not necessarily breed contempt, as the saying goes, it certainly serves to add a little something extra every time the “Black-and-Red” clashes with the boys in red, white and blue.
“It always feels different when you play them,” said Kevin Alston, who got his first taste of the rivalry as a rookie last season. “You know they’re going to bring their ‘A’ game and we’re going to bring our ‘A’ game. It’s just going to be a clash.”
While Alston speaks as if he’s been part of the rivalry between New England and D.C. for many years, that’s simply a byproduct of how deep-seated the feelings are in this matchup. In reality, the 21-year-old defender has only suited up against United once, as he missed last year’s visit to RFK Stadium with an injury.
Even so, Alston is one of a small number of Revolution players who have experience with the historical rivalry with D.C.
For years, the flames of the heated battles were stoked by long-time Revolution veterans like Jay Heaps, Taylor Twellman, Steve Ralston and Matt Reis. But the roster turnover this past offseason saw the Revs part ways with both Heaps and Ralston, while Twellman and Reis are currently rehabbing from long-term injuries and won’t take part in Saturday night’s meeting.
Because so many of the players who built the rivalry will not be on the field on Saturday night at RFK Stadium, it’s up to the newer generation to carry on the passion between the two clubs.
According to rookie Zack Schilawski – who just played his first professional soccer game last weekend against the LA Galaxy – picking up where those before him left off shouldn’t be an issue.
The young forward remembers watching the last time the Revolution visited United, on April 17, 2009.
That night, one memorable confrontation between former New England midfielder Wells Thompson and long-time D.C. instigator Ben Olsen was caught on camera, with Olsen grabbing Thompson by his neck during a scuffle near the corner flag late in the match. Both players were issued yellow cards.
Olsen got the last laugh just a few minutes later, when he scored the game-tying goal in stoppage time. He celebrated by standing directly over Thompson – who had fallen to the ground while marking Olsen – and barking a few choice words in his ear.
Neither player involved in that incident will be on the field on Saturday night – Thompson was sent to Colorado in an offseason trade, while Olsen is now an assistant coach for D.C. – but the feelings from that exchange still remain in those who witnessed it.
“It was a pretty intense game,” he recalled. “Guys were going back and forth with a lot of trash-talking and fighting.”
Having seen what the rivalry is all about as a spectator, Schilawski is eager to be a part of it as a competitor.
“I’ve had a little bit of firsthand experience (watching the rivalry),” he said. “So, I’m excited about it.”
One member of the Revolution who is most familiar with the rivalry is third-year midfielder/defender Chris Tierney. Not only has he participated in previous New England – D.C. meetings as a player, but he grew up in Massachusetts and watched the passionate games between the clubs as a young fan.
“(As a fan), the D.C. United game is one that you circle on the schedule every year and make sure you make it to,” he said. “You just know there’s going to be a little something extra in it.”
Like Tierney, Alston also grew up watching the Revolution – United rivalry as a fan. But growing up in Silver Spring, Md., his allegiance was to the Black-and-Red. In fact, Alston had D.C. United season tickets in high school and was in the stands for games against the Revolution cheering on his hometown team.
While he claims he didn’t know much about the rivalry as a child, Alston says the passion between the clubs came into focus the older he grew.
“At first, growing up I really just saw D.C. and every other team was every other team,” he said. “As I got older, I started to follow it a little bit more. That’s when I could see the rivalry.”
Through all his experience – as a fan and as a player – Tierney expects nothing less than another classic battle on Saturday night.
“It’s always intense,” he said. “We expect the same this weekend.”