Nicol wants more as Revs prepare for Timbers

Improvement in key areas still necessary despite the Revolution’s unbeaten start

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – As one of six remaining unbeaten teams in Major League Soccer, the New England Revolution is understandably pleased with its start to the 2011 season.

Four points from their first two games – including a 1-1 road draw against the LA Galaxy and a 2-1 victory over D.C. United in the home opener – have the Revs in an early tie for second place in the Eastern Conference with the Chicago Fire and New York Red Bulls. While head coach Steve Nicol couldn’t have asked for much more in terms of results, he still expects improvement as his side progresses deeper into the schedule.

“We’re happy with the points,” said Nicol. “We’ve caught a couple of breaks, as well, which is always nice. We’re happy, but we’re not content. We’d still like to be doing some things better.”

The breaks to which Nicol refers include two fortuitous calls which have benefited the Revs, one at each end of the field.

An apparent Galaxy goal was wiped off the board in the season opener when LA forward Mike Magee was adjudged to have fouled Revolution goalkeeper Matt Reis, although replays indicated minimum contact was made. New England’s good fortune continued last weekend when Zack Schilawski appeared to handle the ball before firing in the Revs’ opener, although the goal was allowed to stand.

While the Revs realize they’ve been aided by the dubious decisions, they also fully understand they can’t count on such circumstances forever.

“I think at some point we have to realize that our luck is going to run out,” said central midfielder Pat Phelan. “We’ve had some lucky calls, but we’ve also made our own luck in a sense.

“We’ve had some sharp practices the last couple days, which has been really good,” he continued. “We’re playing a lot better. We’re keeping the ball, running off the ball and moving off the ball really well. We want to focus on how we’re going to play and not just rely on set pieces and balls bouncing our way.”

An opportunity to demonstrate their improvement will arrive this Saturday, April 2, when the Revs host the expansion Portland Timbers at Gillette Stadium. The Timbers arrived in Foxborough on Thursday following a whirlwind week which has seen the league newcomers embark on separate cross-country trips to both Toronto and Boston in a span of eight days.

Keeping Portland’s travel schedule in mind, the Revs will once again be looking for a positive start against the potentially fatigued Timbers. But beyond the opening stages, Nicol would like his side to control possession and subsequently dictate the pace of the game from start to finish.

“We want to make more chances,” said Nicol. “To do that, it means we have to take care of the ball better. They both kind of go hand in hand.”

Rookie center back A.J. Soares agreed that the key to improvement lies in possession, but also noted the Revs shouldn’t stray from the habits which have helped them get their season off to an unbeaten start.

“We want to continue working on our possession and playing in [the opponent’s] half of the field,” Soares said. “But I think the really important things, we’re doing right away. We’re grinding it out, we’re winning tackles, we’re winning the ball in the air and we’re winning second balls.

“Those are innate characteristics of the team, and if you have those, then you’re in every single game,” he added. “It’s good that we have those (characteristics) and we can just build from there and get better every day. If our base foundation is that we’re a hard-working team that wins tackles, we’re going to be in every single game that we play.”