SANDY, Utah – Most professional athletes will tell you the most appropriate way to deal with a difficult loss is to forget it ever happened. Take the lessons which can be learned, move on and tackle your next challenge. In order to deal with the inevitable setbacks which will occur throughout a long career, a short memory is a necessity.
But on rare occasions, a loss can sting so badly that the memory conjures emotions so powerful they can drive you to an improved performance in the future, even years down the road. In one word: redemption.
That’s precisely what the New England Revolution (3-8-2, 11 pts.) will be searching for on Friday night at Rio Tinto Stadium when the club visits 2009 MLS Cup champion Real Salt Lake (7-3-3, 24 pts.). It will mark the Revolution’s first visit to Salt Lake City since suffering the worst regular-season loss in club history, 6-0, on April 25 of last year.
Six different players scored for RSL that evening, all in a remarkable second-half outburst. Ever since they caught their return flight home to Boston the following day, Revolution players have been eagerly awaiting their chance to return to Rio Tinto Stadium and the opportunity to erase that memory.
“It’ll definitely be in the back of my mind,” said Chris Tierney, who was on the field for the full 90 minutes of that 6-0 loss. “If anything, I think it’ll drive us on to get a result there. That was one of the days in my pro career I’d like to forget, and I’ll be going out with a little extra bite if I get a chance to play. I’ll be looking to put it right.”
Head coach Steve Nicol hasn’t forgotten about last year’s result either, and noted he’ll likely mention that bit of history in his pregame speech as he aims to provide some extra motivation ahead of a critical match.
“It’s not something you should forget if you’re a player,” Nicol said. “Certainly we don’t forget it as coaches, so I think we might remind them about it.”
As much as the Revs might prefer to make Friday night’s meeting all about redemption, they must take into account a variety of other factors as they look to snap a skid which has seen them win just once in their last 10 league matches.
Priority number one will likely be to remain solid defensively against a Salt Lake side which has averaged more than two goals per game at home this season (15 goals in seven matches). With U.S. National Team forward Robbie Findley back from representing his country at the 2010 FIFA World Cup, RSL may well present a speed factor. Even though it’s unknown whether Findley will be able to take part on Friday night after only recently returning from South Africa, Salt Lake has plenty of other attacking options, such as leading scorers Alvaro Saborio and Javier Morales.
“The game-plan is to just work hard,” said captain Shalrie Joseph. “We’ve been doing that the last couple of games and the results haven’t gone our way, but I think we need to just keep pushing and pushing.
“We know they’re a great team at home,” he continued, referring to RSL’s stellar form at Rio Tinto Stadium. “They won MLS Cup last year and that just shows the kind of dominant team they can be. For us, we’ve just got to be ready for whatever they bring.”
While a potent attack is one of the main reasons RSL has gone unbeaten (5-0-2) at home this season, it’s been steady performances on the backline which have been the trademark of the defending champions. Having conceded just five goals in seven home games, Real Salt Lake enters Friday night carrying a 318-minute shutout streak, just 37 minutes shy of the club record. RSL hasn’t allowed a goal since late May, in a 4-1 win over the Kansas City Wizards.
Meanwhile, the Revs have been shut out in five of their last six league matches and haven’t scored since striking three times in a 3-2 win over the New York Red Bulls on May 29. New England generated 22 shots in last Sunday night’s 1-0 loss to the Chicago Fire, but only six of those attempts were on frame. If the Revs hope to crack RSL’s resolute defense on Friday night, they’ll have to take their chances when they come.
“We just have to create a lot of chances (again),” said Joseph. “Get Sainey (Nyassi) on the ball, get Chris (Tierney) to whip in some balls and get Zack (Schilawski) chances. I think once we start creating more chances for Zack, he’s going to score. He’s capable of scoring.”
In addition to their opponents, the Revs will also be dealing with the ever-present altitude factor on Friday night. Many experts believe that RSL’s dominance at home is partly a result of the thin air in Utah – while Salt Lake’s players have acclimated to the conditions, visiting players become tired more quickly.
However, according to Tierney, the altitude “excuse” is more mental than physical, so the key is to forget you’re evening playing above sea level.
“What you have to do is not think about it,” he said. “If you talk about playing at altitude and how thin the air is, then it gets in your head and it becomes an external factor that you don’t need as a distraction. You go out there and you play soccer. The matter of the fact is, you’re going to get tired a little more quickly, but so are the other guys. It’s a soccer game, and we’re not going to think about factors like that.”
Taking everything into account as the Revs prepare to visit Rio Tinto Stadium for the second time, an improved performance in all areas will be required if they hope to snap RSL’s current eight-game unbeaten run in league play and 17-game undefeated streak at home.
“We’re just looking for more quality in the right areas,” said Nicol. “I haven’t changed my mind about the (Chicago) game. As far as attitude and commitment and all that stuff, it was great – that’s not a problem. We just have to be better all around. We need to try and up our quality, whatever it may be.”