Normally, this is the time of the year when the crisp air of autumn has already lost its novelty. The once-colorful leaves that sprinkled the scenery now give way to barren trees, and the dreary days of November are accompanied by chilly nights, with many dusting off the winter blankets for the cold temperatures. But these aspects of early November are as much in the back of the minds of Revs supporters as raking the leaves and gutter cleaning with their beloved squad poised to take the Eastern Conference crown this Sunday. The team, coming off an improbable 2-1 win (4-2 on penalty kicks) over Chicago Saturday night, is currently preparing for a rematch of the classic 2004 Eastern Conference Final, in which the United took the 4-3 result on penalty kicks.
Playoff history aside, DC got off to a quick start out of the gate in 2006, as they bolted to a 14-2-6 record through July, only to cool off considerably in September, stumbling to a lackluster 2-5-2 record going into the playoffs. Conversely, the Revs spent much of '06 mired in mediocrity, their draw total (12) indicative of the team's apparent complacency to leave the scene of the crime with one point in their back pockets for much of the summer. However, once the weather turned cool, the team sizzled down the stretch, compiling a 5-0-2 (including a 2-1 win in DC on October 7) in their final seven matches. The Revs, riding the momentum of not only their regular season finish, but their come from behind 0-2 aggregate goal deficit to win last week, seem primed to take this match lock, stock, and barrel.
One thing that currently unknown is whether Clint Dempsey's services will be available come Sunday, as he is officially listed as "doubtful" for the playoff tilt. You may recall the one they call Deuce did not suit up for last Saturday's match vs. Chicago after sustaining an ankle injury during Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semis. Although the team has shown it can win without key cogs in its lineup (i.e. Shalrie Joseph and Pat Noonan), it would certainly be advantageous to have the 2006 Honda Player of the Year on the RFK Stadium pitch, especially against a team in which he's recorded considerable success against.
Nonetheless, despite much uncertainty, what is certain is that Sunday's match promises to be must see TV. The Revs arrive in DC as the hottest team in MLS right now, while DC is pressed to prove that its early success is a true barometer of the team's ability to win games such as these. Which DC team will show up: the first half dynamo or the second half church mouse? Will it once again take the adversity of a potential one-goal deficit to stir up Steve Nicol's boys? Make sure the gutters are cleaned and the leaves raked before 4pm on Sunday to find out.
And now, for your reading pleasure, RevsNet's Tony Biscaia and I present an interview...with Pat Noonan.
BRIAN: What were your emotions last Saturday night coming off the bench and getting that equalizing goal to pull the team even at 2-2 aggregate?
PAT: It was obviously good to be out there and trying help the team. I don't think I played that great just because the fitness wasn't good but in terms of just being able to come out and try and give a boost, especially getting the early goal helped. I just have be out there and hopefully add alot more this weekend.
BRIAN: You've been injured for a good portion of the season. Was there any specific match you had to watch from the bench, in which you thought to yourself "man, if I could only get out there and help the team out?"
PAT: Well, every game that I sat and watched was tough to watch and there was no one match in particular because every game I want to be out there (because) I know our guys are capable of going out and getting the job done. It was pretty much every match; there wasn't one match that I can single out that I said "I'd love to be out there" more than any other match.
BRIAN: You have the reputation as being one of those players who just happens to be in the right place at the right time when goals get scored. To what do you attribute your success in the clutch?
PAT: In the importance of a game you just have to bring your level up alot of people do that, maybe being in the right place at the right time. It's just a matter of bringing the concentration level up a little bit so you can get that big goal or that final pass to make a play that will make a difference in the game. I think I've had the experience throughout college, and now MLS, to get the opportunity to be in there and make something happen. Once you get that, you gain confidence and expect to do it, and it becomes second nature.
BRIAN: How do you feel about this team, given the success its seen in recent years, and its legacy, so to speak? What makes this team so special in the way it goes about its business in the face of adversity?
PAT: In the past few years, we've had confidence. We're as good as any team the Revolution has put out there. We've had this team out on the field for a few years now, and alot of the guys have been around since I've been around for four years. But especially in the last two years, we've just had the same group of guys out there, the same 15 guys that come in and out of the lineup, that just know how to go out there and just get the job done, so when a guy goes down somebody's ready to step in and take over. You (have to) have that depth when it comes playoff time and with there being such a long season, you have to have that confidence (to succeed), and this team has that.
BRIAN: You guys last faced DC back on October 7, a game in which you won 2-1. Do you go back look at film of that game in preparation for Sunday's match?
PAT: We haven't looked at the film. We're going out there with the mindset with what we want to do to set the tone and do our job. We're not going to worry about them until then. If they throw out something different, we'll adjust during the game, but I imagine they're going to go out there same way they did that game and we're going to prepare for that, and for that team and that formation, and do what we can to set the tone.
BRIAN: What trait in the makeup of this team leads you to believe that you can not only advance to the MLS Cup, but bring back the championship to New England as well?
PAT: Confidence and pride. When we're out there, we want to win, and nobody gives up, you're playing for yourself, for your teammates, for the fans and the organization. We have something special here with this group of guys and we want to do it for each other.
BRIAN: Let's say the Revs win the MLS Cup this year - should there be a huge 5-story Revs championship banner adorning the pedestrian ramps of Gillette Stadium similar to the three Patriots Super Bowl banners already hanging?
PAT: Absolutely. No question in my mind.
TONY: In the playoffs, the importance of defense seems to be prominent; the scoring seems to be lower, especially in the finals. We know that our defense is very dependable, they've proven that the past couple of years. Does that put extra pressure on you guys to have to play a little more of an attacking style?
PAT: No, our defense has been the backbone of this team all year. We know we'll score goals and we have our offense and they can do the job. They've been the ones out there that when we were struggling to score goals, kept us in games. So we have no doubt that they're going to go out there and keep (other) teams off the scoreboard, and limit the other team's dangerous opportunities and we know we'll get our opportunities, so that's not our focus. Our focus is that we finish our opportunities when we get them.