Revs eye silverware as SuperLiga kicks off

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Although it was only two years ago, just 10 players remain from the New England Revolution squad which lifted the SuperLiga 2008 trophy following a dramatic penalty kick shootout victory over the Houston Dynamo. Two of those players (Steve Ralston and Khano Smith) actually left Foxborough to play for other clubs before returning, while another (Taylor Twellman) is on the season-ending injury list and won’t be able to participate in this year’s competition.

While many of the faces have changed, the fact that the Revs are the only MLS team to ever claim the title isn’t lost on those who’ll be wearing the team’s colors when SuperLiga 2010 kicks off on Wednesday night, July 14, when the Revolution welcomes Mexican Primera División club Pumas UNAM to Gillette Stadium for an 8 p.m. kickoff. The Revs will continue the group stage on the road against MLS rival Chicago Fire on Saturday, July 17, while they’ll conclude group play back in Foxborough against Mexican side Monarcas Morelia on Tuesday, July 20.

There are multiple benefits to the competition – not the least of which is the entertainment derived from the passionate rivalries between MLS and Mexican clubs – but the bottom line is the tournament provides a chance to add another piece of silverware to the trophy case.

“It’s another chance to win some hardware,” said central midfielder Pat Phelan, who was a rookie when the Revs won SuperLiga 2008. “It’s tough to do in this league – you don’t get many opportunities. We want to show well. We want to show well around the league and we want to show well to teams from other countries.”

In order to pursue the SuperLiga 2010 trophy, the Revs (4-9-2, 14 pts.) will have to put their league schedule on hold for three weeks. They won’t return to regular-season action until making their first-ever visit to PPL Park to face the expansion Philadelphia Union on July 31.

The timing of the break could be seen as unfortunate for the Revolution, which just this past weekend earned its biggest win of the season with a 2-0 triumph over the league-leading LA Galaxy. With confidence on the rise, now is a perfect time for the Revs to build some momentum as they prepare for a playoff push in the second half of the season and the break could kill that forward thrust.

However, defender Darrius Barnes has a different take, noting that the Revs can use a quality performance in SuperLiga to vault themselves into the rest of the league schedule.

“I think SuperLiga’s coming at a good time for us,” he said. “Especially coming off the win against LA, this is definitely a competition where we can build some confidence and build some momentum going into the Philadelphia game [after the group stage of SuperLiga].

“It’s going to be a huge task for us to come in and play these sides,” Barnes continued. “It’s also going to be a competitive environment for us to continue to build our team chemistry and kind of pick up where we left off in the LA game. We don’t want to be content with [the LA win], because we have a steep hill to climb.”

In order to build confidence and momentum through the group stage of SuperLiga 2010, the Revs will have to perform against some of the top teams in the Mexican Primera División, beginning with Wednesday night’s meeting with Pumas. One of the most popular clubs in Mexico, Pumas claimed the Clausura 2009 championship and boasts former Chivas USA forward Francisco “Paco” Palencia on its roster.

While each Mexican club will provide unique challenges, the country’s style of play typically focuses on possession and quick movement off the ball.

“Their style of possession – the way they keep the ball and keep moving it and try to get everybody involved – is something to watch and something I admire,” said captain Shalrie Joseph, another of the Revs who lifted the SuperLiga trophy in 2008. “That’s what we try to do a little bit in our team.”

At one end of the field, the Revolution will try to emulate the Mexican side’s possession-oriented game, but when Pumas is controlling the ball, the Revs will have to figure out a way to counteract their movement.

“(Keeping our) shape is huge,” said Phelan. “Shape and communication, staying on our feet and keeping the ball in front of us (will be important). And just being patient and waiting for the right time, because they’re going to have possession and they’re going to keep the ball for extended periods of time. Picking and choosing our moments about when to press will be important.”

The Revs seem to have figured out how to deal with the Mexican style of play in recent years, as they’ve gone a perfect 5-0-0 against Mexican teams in the last two editions of SuperLiga. That record includes two victories over Santos Laguna and one each over Atlante, Pachuca and Atlas.

Two players in particular who’ve found remarkable success in SuperLiga have been the African duo of Kheli Dube and Kenny Mansally. Both players were dominant in the group stage of last year’s competition, each racking up two goals and two assists in just three games.

Although Dube and Mansally have had trouble cracking the Revolution’s starting lineup in recent weeks, they could see increased time in SuperLiga as head coach Steve Nicol aims to keep his side as healthy as possible heading into the second half of the regular season.

“We’re pretty banged up,” said Nicol, whose team had nine players listed on its injury report on Tuesday, July 13. “We certainly want to win the (Pumas) game, and we certainly want to win the tournament, but it may be a chance to give some guys some time on the field who maybe haven’t gotten on the field so far this season.”

Regardless of what the lineup looks like when the Revs face Pumas UNAM on Wednesday night, the matches throughout the competition are sure to be heated as eight teams – four from MLS and four from the Mexican Primera División – vie for regional supremacy.

“We’re looking forward to the tournament,” said Joseph. “It’s one of those tournaments that a lot of teams don’t get to participate in and we’ve been one of the lucky ones to win it so far. Now we’re trying to get back to lift the trophy again.”