FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – When the New England Revolution crossed the country to visit the San Jose Earthquakes at Buck Shaw Stadium in mid-April, the club did so as one of three teams tied atop the Eastern Conference standings. At that time, the Revs were one of the hotter teams in the league following back-to-back wins – their first two victories of the season – including a convincing 4-1 triumph over Toronto FC.
One month later, those two victories represent the Revolution’s only wins of the season, as a 2-0 loss to the Earthquakes began what has turned into a five-match winless streak (0-4-1).
The Revs (2-5-1, 7 pts.) – now tied for fifth place in the Eastern Conference – will have an opportunity to snap their skid on Saturday night at Gillette Stadium against those same Earthquakes (4-2-0, 12 pts.), the team which began New England’s current slide four weeks ago.
A major contributing factor in the Revolution’s recent struggles has been the team’s injury situation, which came to a head this past week when the club traveled just 16 healthy players to Columbus for a league match and just 14 to New York for a U.S. Open Cup play-in game a few days later. The injuries left the Revs in a particularly tight spot on the backline, as rookie left back Seth Sinovic was the only natural defender available for New England in that Open Cup qualifier, a 3-0 loss to the New York Red Bulls.
There is good news on that front, however, as both Kevin Alston (R hamstring strain) and Cory Gibbs (R quadriceps strain) were upgraded to “Probable” on the injury report after returning to training on Friday morning. Gibbs is expected to be available for selection against the Earthquakes, while Alston will undergo a pregame fitness test to determine his availability.
For Alston – who said he felt “pretty good” after Friday’s session – the past week was spent recovering from the hamstring injury which prevented him from traveling to Columbus last weekend. As for Gibbs, the time off was more about rest than anything else as the Revs prepare for their fifth game in the last 15 days.
“I’m fine,” said Gibbs after training on Friday. “[The quad injury] wasn’t that serious. [Head coach Steve Nicol] just wanted me to rest my body – nothing major. I’ve been fine. Just had a couple days of rest, which was good for my body, and I feel great.”
The news wasn’t so positive for forward Edgaras Jankauskas, who was downgraded from “Questionable” to “Doubtful” on the injury report and looks unlikely to feature on Saturday night because of a right hamstring strain. In his absence, Zack Schilawski, Kheli Dube and Marko Perovic – eligible to return after serving his one-game suspension last weekend – will likely continue to provide the bulk of attacking impetus.
Should both Alston and Gibbs return to the starting lineup, it would give the Revs three healthy defenders as both Darrius Barnes (R midfoot sprain) and Emmanuel Osei (R leg infection) remain sidelined. Unless Nicol opts for a three-man backline, that still leaves one spot to fill in defense. Defensive midfielder Pat Phelan seems the most likely candidate to slot into the backline after playing central defense in the midweek loss to the Red Bulls.
With that possibility in mind, the Revs will have to stay particularly focused on Saturday night against an Earthquakes team which has scored 11 goals en route to winning four of its last five matches. That stretch includes last weekend’s 4-0 win over the Eastern-Conference leading Red Bulls.
“We just need to be organized,” said Alston. “We’ve kind of had some lapses the past couple of games. We just need to come together. It starts with organization and communication. The rest is heart, passion, [desire] to play – we’ve just got to put it all together.”
It’s been a series of untimely mistakes which have cost the Revolution goals in recent weeks, and those types of errors will have to avoided should the Revs hope to hold off San Jose, which has routinely punished its opponents’ defensive miscues.
“It’s a great team,” said Gibbs. “We definitely can’t be complacent. They work hard and they’re a nuisance up top. Bobby (Convey) serves in a good ball. If we do our stuff well, then we shouldn’t have a problem. The problem is that we went [to San Jose in April] and we didn’t perform up to our potential. I think if we put in a good performance this time, we’ll be alright.”
One player Gibbs will have to be particularly aware of is 27-year-old forward Chris Wondolowski, who has been a revelation since making his 2010 debut against the Revs on April 17. Wondolowski scored the game-winning goal against the Revolution and has proceeded to score in each of the next three games. His four goals (in just four appearances) have him lodged in a tie for third-place on the MLS scoring chart.
Known primarily as a hard-working forward, Wondolowski scored just seven goals in his first five seasons in the league, but he’s found the scoring touch in recent weeks.
“He’s a nuisance,” said Gibbs. “He does the hard work and he keeps himself busy. He does the important things – the things forwards don’t really want to do at times – and it’s paid off for him. We just have to contain him [on Saturday] and get through it.”
Nicol knows it’s not just his backline which will have to be sharp against the Earthquakes, but the midfield and forwards, as well. After suffering a 4-0 defeat at home to Chivas USA on May 5, the Revs were much-improved in possession and showed a greater attacking intent just a few days later against the Crew. Despite Robbie Rogers’ stoppage-time winner in that match to send the Revolution to a 3-2 loss, there were positives to take out of the performance.
With the streaking Earthquakes coming to town, the Revs will need to build upon those positives if they hope to snap their winless skid and climb back into the mix in the Eastern Conference.
“They’re on a great run, so they’re going to be coming here confident,” Nicol said. “They’ll want to get after us early, but it’s important that we put on a good performance at home. Getting your points at home is really important in MLS. They’re strong, but we’re looking to be stronger.”