As New England coach Steve Nicol contemplated the task that faced his Revolution side in San Jose on Saturday night, he pinpointed possession -- always a priority for the Revs -- as a critical underpinning to success.
“It's important to be good with the ball,” Nicol told MLSsoccer.com in a phone interview earlier this week. “It's a fast pitch and it's not the biggest pitch ever, so people are going to be close to you. You have to be good with the ball. That's your starting point.”
Nicol believes his side needs to improve its performance in possession heading into the match at Buck Shaw Stadium. In the Revs' previous two away matches, they have struggled to keep the ball consistently with Shalrie Joseph (right hip flexor strain) sidelined in both encounters.
Joseph didn't make the trip to the Bay Area, but Nicol said the objective hasn't changed even without the influential midfielder in the starting XI.
“We need to be solid and, once we get it, we need to play with the ball and we need to be better with it,” Nicol said. “When we played D.C. away, we weren't particularly great with the ball, truth be told. Although we got a great result with a couple of great goals, we can do a lot better as far as playing-wise. Certainly, it's about the results, but to get the results consistently, we need to be more consistent. That's what we're looking for this weekend.”
One player who could make a difference in facilitating play through the midfield may not feature from the outset. Marko Perovic made his Revolution debut by playing the final 20 minutes in last Saturday's 4-1 win over Toronto FC, but Nicol questioned whether the Serbian midfielder possessed the match fitness to complete a full match after a lengthy spell on the sidelines with former club FC Basel.
“To be honest, I'm not quite sure,” Nicol said. “Could he play 90 minutes? I don't know. Unless he plays 90 minutes, we won't know whether or not he is [capable of doing it]. Obviously, he's trained well all week, but playing games and training are two different things. He hasn't played in games for quite some time, so I can't really answer that. He'll be ready to do whatever we want him to do, whether it's 20, 70 or 90 minutes or whatever.”
Although Perovic presents a tempting option to bolster the Revolution's attacking arsenal, Nicol may instead opt to start Pat Phelan in Joseph's place to bolster the defensive presence in central midfield. Phelan started the first two matches in Joseph's absence, but dropped to the bench against TFC last weekend.
Several players remain unavailable to the Revs as they seek a third straight victory. Matt Reis (left shoulder and knee surgeries) and Taylor Twellman (concussion symptoms) continue to rehabilitate long-term concerns, while Mauricio Castro (right ankle pain) is also out.
Nico Colaluca (left knee sprain) and Edgaras Jankauskas (right calf strain) increased their work in training this week, but Nicol said neither player is ready to play at this point.
Despite the injuries and the third away match in four weekends, New England will be ready to attempt to replicate the 1-0 victory obtained in this same fixture to kick off the 2009 campaign, according to Revolution defender Cory Gibbs.
“All of those things affect us a bit, but we've got our head around it like we always have done,” Gibbs told MLSsoccer.com in a phone interview earlier this week. “We'll go out there and just play to the best of our abilities, so we can get the three points.”