COLUMBUS, Ohio – The New England Revolution returns to the road this weekend for a Saturday night meeting with the Columbus Crew, and after earning just one point from a possible nine in the recent three-game home-stand, perhaps a change of scenery will provide the spark for which the club is searching.
Two weeks ago, the Revs (2-4-1, 7 pts.) had high hopes as they entered a stretch of three consecutive games at Gillette Stadium – their longest home-stand of the 2010 regular season – looking to keep pace with the leaders in the Eastern Conference. A series of injuries, three ejections and continued difficulty maintaining possession put a damper on the proceedings, however, as losses to the Colorado Rapids and Chivas USA were sandwiched around a draw with FC Dallas.
The trio of results dropped the Revolution’s home record to 1-2-1 on the season, with an impressive 4-1 win over Toronto FC in the home opener representing the only victory. The Revs have a similar 1-2-0 record on the road, but they’ll be looking to improve upon that this weekend in Columbus.
Of course, Crew Stadium is not the easiest of venues for visiting teams to acquire points, and the Crew is not the easiest of teams to try to acquire those points against. Columbus (2-0-2, 8 pts.) enters this weekend as one of only two remaining unbeaten teams in Major League Soccer, having conceded just three goals, the second-lowest total in the league. The Crew lost just two games at home in the entire 2009 regular season, and the club has continued that form early in 2010, winning its first two home games without allowing a single goal.
“They’re a good team,” said midfielder Khano Smith, who earned his first start in his second stint with the Revolution on Wednesday night against Chivas USA. “(They were) champions a couple of years ago (in 2008), so it’s going to be hard. We just have to be at our best. We have to play better, because they’re going to be good, so it’s not going to be easy.”
While the statistics stack up heavily against the Revs, they do have history on their side. The last time the Revolution visited Crew Stadium, it was in the final game of the 2009 regular season. Needing at least a draw in that match to secure of a spot in the MLS Cup Playoffs, the Revs earned a 1-0 win courtesy of a Jeff Larentowicz free kick.
Such memories could help the Revs mentally prepare for another match in which they’ll have to overcome injuries and suspension. In addition to long-term injury victims Matt Reis (L shoulder/L knee surgery), Taylor Twellman (concussion) and Emmanuel Osei (R leg infection), Mike Videira (L ankle Os Trigonum) will remain sidelined for the second straight game. Joining him will be Kevin Alston (R hamstring strain) and Edgaras Jankauskas (R hamstring strain), both of whom picked up knocks in the midweek match against Chivas USA and did not travel to Columbus. Meanwhile, Shalrie Joseph remains away from the club while attending to personal matters.
The Revs will also have to cope without Marko Perovic, who has been the main thrust in the attack since making his debut in the third game of the season against Toronto. The Serbian midfielder will serve a one-game suspension after he was ejected from Wednesday’s loss to Chivas USA.
“We’ve got to work through it,” said head coach Steve Nicol when asked how the team would adjust without Perovic. “We’ve just got to make up for it – simple as that. We’ve got to find a way. Sometimes you do and sometimes you don’t, but you’ve got to keep striving to find that answer.”
On the flip side, the Revs will be happy to welcome forward Kheli Dube and midfielder Joseph Niouky back into the fold. Both were suspended for the Chivas USA match after being ejected from last weekend’s draw with FC Dallas, but will be eligible to return against the Crew.
While there are still questions as to how Nicol will fill the newly-created gaps left by Alston and Perovic, Niouky’s return provides a natural central midfielder, while Dube is another option up top with Twellman and Jankauskas injured.
No matter who he chooses to put on the field, Nicol believes that it’s down to each individual player to improve their focus after untimely mistakes led to a pair of Chivas USA goals on Wednesday night.
“At the end of the day, you can’t win games when you’re letting goals in,” he said. “I’m not sure whether I’d rather we were getting cut apart and losing goals, or whether we’d prefer to be making stupid mistakes like we have done and losing goals. There’s probably not a right way, but I guess if you make stupid mistakes, then that’s a lot easier to rectify than having your backline totally torn apart. I don’t think we’re being torn apart – certainly not when we’ve been 11-v-11 – but we’ve certainly made individual errors that have cost us.”
Smith – who could find himself in the starting lineup for the second straight game with Perovic suspended – agreed that it would be fatal for the Revs to continue to let mistakes cost them goals.
“We gave up soft goals (against Chivas USA),” he said. “I mean, they took the chances, but we gave them soft goals. We can’t give up soft goals like that. We need to play the way the coaching staff wants us to play."
The way Nicol would like his players to play is simple. An inability to maintain possession has been the main sticking point in recent weeks, and he believes that a return to the basics is necessary for improvement to take hold.
“We really need to do the basics better,” he said. “Again, the game’s all about doing the basics well. If you do the basics well, then you’ve got a chance.”
In order to focus on the basics, the Revs will have to push the recent loss to Chivas USA out of their minds and give 100 percent of their attention to the Crew.
“We need to get back to where we were a couple of weeks ago,” said Dube. “Try to pass the ball more and try to forget about this past game (against Chivas USA). Games like that, they happen a lot. We play a professional sport – you lose some, you win some. That one, we lost, and it’s gone now and we focus on Columbus.”