FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Revolution head coach Steve Nicol used identical starting lineups in the first two games of the current three-game home-stand. He won’t have the chance to make it three in a row when Chivas USA visits Gillette Stadium on Wednesday night.
Nicol will have to get creative with his lineup because of a pair of suspensions, as both Kheli Dube and Joseph Niouky were ejected from the Revolution’s 1-1 draw with FC Dallas last weekend. Dube – who leads the team with three assists – has started five of the first six games of the season, while he appeared as a substitute in the only match he didn’t start. Until his red card in the 72nd minute of the Dallas match, Niouky had played every minute for the Revs.
With changes in the cards, Nicol said rather than preparing specifically for what Chivas USA brings to the table, he’s more focused on making sure his own team is ready for the task at hand.
“Obviously the middle of the park (where Niouky normally plays) is pretty important, so we’re more interested in making sure that we’re buttoned up with what we’re doing,” he said. “[We know Chivas USA] can hurt us, but the most important thing is to sort ourselves out at the moment.”
The Revs (2-3-1, 7 pts.) will hope to sort themselves out in time to salvage the final game of their season-long three-game home-stand. Back-to-back games at Gillette Stadium have yielded just one point from a possible six, as the Revolution dropped a 2-1 decision the Colorado Rapids before last weekend’s draw with Dallas. The draw snapped a brief two-game losing streak and lifted the Revs into a tie with the Kansas City Wizards for fourth place in the Eastern Conference, just one point behind second-place clubs the Columbus Crew and Chicago Fire.
Chivas USA (2-3-1, 7 pts.) finds itself in a similar situation in the Western Conference, as the Goats are tied for sixth place but are separated from second place by just three points. Like the Revs, Chivas USA played to a 1-1 draw this past weekend in Chicago before heading directly to New England for the second leg of a two-game road trip. It was the club’s first point on the road this season.
The Goats will have to continue that road form if they hope to take anything from Wednesday night’s match at Gillette Stadium, a venue in which they’ve never won. In five previous meetings in Foxborough, the Revs are 4-0-1 and have outscored Chivas USA by a margin of 11-2.
Even with history on its side, the Revolution will have to be wary of Chivas USA’s potent attack, led by U.S. National Team midfielder Sacha Kljestan. The 2010 FIFA World Cup hopeful has rounded into form of late and scored a fantastic long-range goal in the Goats’ 3-2 win over the San Jose Earthquakes on April 24.
“Kljestan’s the guy that the ball goes through a lot,” said goalkeeper Preston Burpo, who was Kljestan’s teammate with Chivas USA from 2006-07. “He sits underneath the forwards, so the ball’s going to go through him.
“(Defender Jonathan) Bornstein likes to get forward,” he continued. “(Mariano) Trujillo is a danger getting forward. (Jesus) Padilla has come on here in the last few games creating some chances. (It’s the) same old type of team they’ve had for years now, where they like to try to play some soccer and keep it.”
One player New England won’t have to worry about is dynamic midfielder Michael Lahoud, who will be suspended following an incident in Chivas USA’s weekend meeting with Chicago.
While the Revs will certainly benefit from Burpo’s knowledge of his former team, they’d also be helped by a repeat performance of his heroics in last weekend’s draw with Dallas. Burpo made a career-high 10 saves in that match, including several of the spectacular variety.
It will unquestionably be a different lineup in front of Burpo on Wednesday night, but the backline could remain unchanged. Left back Seth Sinovic appears unaffected by the ankle injury which forced him off late in the Dallas match, while central defenders Cory Gibbs and Darrius Barnes look likely to retain their starting spots. The only question mark is right back Kevin Alston, who was listed as questionable with an illness on Tuesday’s injury report.
Central midfielder Pat Phelan is also likely to remain in the starting lineup, although his partner in the middle of the field will have to change with Niouky unavailable. With that said, Phelan believes the Revs will depend on each individual player to step up and replace the contributions of their missing teammates on Wednesday night.
“That’s pretty much what it comes down to (is individual performances),” said Phelan. “It’s a confidence thing, as well. We know we haven’t put together a good performance in a while. We know we’re down numbers, we’re missing some key guys and we’re not going to be able to play the way the team would normally play and the fans are used to seeing us play.
“At this point, we need a spark from someone – it doesn’t matter who,” he continued. “Zack (Schilawski) has been bright for us and he came up with the big goal (against Dallas). Those are the kinds of plays we need, we just need to be more consistent with them and we need more of them.”
With Dube and Niouky suspended, it’s likely that some fresh faces will have the chance to step up and provide the necessary spark. Whether Nicol sticks with the 4-4-2 formation or elects to try a 4-5-1 setup, players like Zak Boggs, Nico Colaluca, Edgaras Jankauskas, Kenny Mansally, Khano Smith or Chris Tierney could be presented
No matter who’s on the field, Phelan knows that the Revs need an improved performance to close out their home-stand before heading back on the road for a weekend trip to Columbus.
“I think the fans aren’t too happy with the product we’re putting on the field right now, and deservedly so,” said Phelan. “We want to go out on a bright note. We want to pick up three points before we head into a tough game in Columbus.”