HARRISON, N.J. – The busiest month of the New England Revolution’s 2010 schedule is well underway, and the breakneck pace will continue on Wednesday, May 12, when the club visits the New York Red Bulls for a U.S. Open Cup play-in match. Kickoff from Red Bull Arena is set for 8 p.m.
The Revs are the top-seeded team in Major League Soccer’s “play-in” round of competition, in which nine MLS clubs vie for the final two (of eight total) MLS spots in the 2010 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup draw. This will mark the Revolution’s entrance into the competition, but the Red Bulls have already played one play-in match – defeating the Philadelphia Union, 2-1, at Red Bull Arena on April 27 – just to get to this point.
The winner of Wednesday night’s match will advance to host the Colorado Rapids in the final round of the play-in competition with a spot in the third round of the U.S. Open Cup on the line.
Despite New England’s top seed, New York won the right to host Wednesday night’s match via coin toss. This will be the Revolution’s first-ever visit to the brand new Red Bull Arena, the state-of-the-art venue which opened at the start of this season.
In order to advance to the next round of play-in matches, the Revs will have to overcome more than simply playing on the road. The Revolution has been battered with a slew of injuries and suspensions in recent weeks, culminating with last weekend’s trip to Columbus in which the club only traveled 16 healthy bodies.
Of the group that traveled to Columbus, goalkeeper Preston Burpo, defenders Cory Gibbs and Darrius Barnes, and midfielder Mauricio Castro did not make the trip to New York. Even with Marko Perovic – who was suspended for the Crew match – and third-string goalkeeper Tim Murray joining the travel party, just 14 players boarded New England’s bus to head down I-95.
For that reason, the importance of avoiding more injuries on Wednesday night cannot be overstated.
“It’s vitally important,” said assistant coach Stephen Myles. “I think that’s there for everybody to see. We’re just hoping now that even during training and especially through games that we get out of there without too serious an injury.”
With a whopping 11 players staying behind in New England, the Revolution will once again name a relatively makeshift lineup against the Red Bulls. One particular area of focus is in defense, as just one natural defender – Seth Sinovic – has made the trip. That leaves midfielders Pat Phelan, Chris Tierney and Khano Smith as the most likely players to plug the holes in the backline. Second-year goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth – who has yet to make his Revolution debut in any competition – is likely to get the start between the pipes.
No matter the lineup, a few of the players taking the field for the Revolution on Wednesday night – namely Nico Colaluca, Kenny Mansally and Shuttleworth – will be looking to make an impression with their playing time in the league limited.
“It’s an opportunity for them to show us what they can do,” said Myles. “In all honesty, whether it’s training or whether it’s games, you’re (always) looking for guys to try and impress.”
Those players looking to prove themselves likely won’t need any extra motivation, but there’s the small matter of the New England – New York rivalry to take into account, as well. An Open Cup game may not have quite the same allure as a regular-season meeting, but the feelings of animosity between these two teams won’t fade simply because of the competition. Especially since the Red Bulls currently sit on top of the Eastern Conference with a record of 5-2-0.
“Whenever two teams with the quality of New England and New York step on the field, it’s always going to be a battle,” said Tierney, who grew up in Massachusetts and is well-acquainted with the inter-city rivalry. “We don’t care [which competition it is]. Whenever you step on the field as a pro, you want to win games, so I expect this game to be pretty intense. We’re going to go for the win, for sure.”
Even further motivation can be found in the Revolution’s storied history in the U.S. Open Cup. It was just three years ago that the Revs lifted the 2007 U.S. Open Cup trophy as they celebrated their first-ever cup championship.
Although he didn’t join the Revolution until 2008, Tierney claims that because his team’s name is already on that trophy, it gives everyone another reason to want to lift it again.
“I’ve heard great things about that Open Cup run,” he said. “It’s a tournament that any team would be really proud to win, so we’re going into the (New York) game looking for a win. We want to win the tournament, so we’re looking for a good result.”