SANTA CLARA, Calif. – The last time the New England Revolution visited Buck Shaw Stadium to face the San Jose Earthquakes, forward Kheli Dube scored the game’s only goal in the 55th minute to hand the Revs their first victory in the Bay Area since July 22, 2000, snapping a six-game winless streak in San Jose.
It’s been more than a year since that match – which was the 2009 season opener for both clubs – but the Revs will be in search of a repeat performance when the sides square off on Saturday night, April 17, at 10 p.m. ET.
Currently tied atop the Eastern Conference standings with both the Kansas City Wizards and New York Red Bulls, the Revolution (2-1-0, 6 pts.) has been one of the hottest teams in the league in recent weeks, having won back-to-back games against D.C. and Toronto while outscoring its opponents 6-1 in the process. Highlighting last weekend’s emphatic win over TFC was a second-half offensive explosion in which the Revs found the back of the net four times in just 19 minutes.
But while the Revs are feeling confident based on their last two performances, they’ll meet an equally confident opponent in San Jose on Saturday night. The Earthquakes (1-1-0, 3 pts.) opened their season with a 3-0 home loss to defending MLS Cup champion Real Salt Lake, but bounced back with an impressive 2-1 road win over the Chicago Fire last weekend. The Western Conference club was led by the resurgent Bobby Convey and rookie defender Ike Opara, who linked up to score the game-winning goal late in that victory over the Fire.
Opara – who was selected third overall in the 2010 MLS SuperDraft – may have shown his propensity on the attacking end of the field with the decisive goal in just his second professional appearance, but the former Wake Forest standout has also been steady in defense. On Saturday night he’ll likely be charged with the task of containing Revolution forward Zack Schilawski, who became just the third rookie in MLS history to record a hat trick with the first three goals of his professional career against Toronto last weekend.
It just so happens that Schilawski and Opara will be quite familiar with each other, but not as opponents. The pair played together at Wake Forest for three years before both were selected in the first round of the 2010 MLS SuperDraft.
“We were text messaging the other night and he was saying, ‘Don’t think you’re going to get three against us,’” Schilawski said with a chuckle. “I’m excited to play against him, but it’s going to be a challenge. He’s the real deal. He’s athletic and he’s tough, so it should be a good matchup.”
While Schilawski and Opara are both expected to start on Saturday night, the Revolution will be missing a few key figures because of injury.
The news out of New England on Thursday was that 2009 MLS MVP finalist Shalrie Joseph did not make the trip to the West Coast after re-aggravating the right hip flexor strain which forced him to miss the first two games of the season. He made his 2010 debut against Toronto FC and recorded an assist in a 75-minute performance, but he will not be available to the Revs in San Jose. He is joined back in Foxborough by Nico Colaluca (L knee sprain), Edgaras Jankauskas (R calf strain), Mauricio Castro (R ankle pain), Matt Reis (L shoulder/knee surgery) and Taylor Twellman (concussion).
Hopefully somewhat counteracting the subtraction of Joseph, however, is the addition of Serbian midfielder Marko Perovic. After making his Revolution debut with a 20-minute substitute appearance against Toronto last weekend, Perovic has had a full week to train with his new teammates and find his legs following the time change, and it’s possible that he’ll be ready for an increased role against the Earthquakes.
If Perovic does find himself on the field at Buck Shaw Stadium on Saturday night, he’ll have to adjust to the narrow dimensions of the venue. With less space to work, play is often dictated in the midfield and teams typically emphasize quick passing and spreading the ball wide.
“[You have] fewer touches on the ball,” said midfielder Pat Phelan, who could replace Joseph in the starting lineup. “Obviously width is huge, so every time you get the ball you’re going to have to look wide and really get the ball out of your feet as quickly as possible, because it’s very easy to close down space in such a small field.”
According to head coach Steve Nicol, the narrow field presents a sort of double-edged sword. It becomes much more important to use the full width of the surface, but because the field is narrow, it becomes all the more difficult to do so.
Even so, past results indicate it’s a factor to which the Revs can adjust.
“It’s pretty tight, it’s pretty small,” said Nicol of the field at Buck Shaw. “But it’s one of those things you have to deal with. We can’t complain – we had a great result there last season, so we’ve shown that we can go there and get a result.”
Although the field will play its part in the game, Nicol said that the outcome is ultimately down to the attitude of the players.
“We just have to make sure that we approach [this] game with the same conviction that we have done the first three games,” he said.