KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Just three days after having an eight-game unbeaten streak snapped at the hands of the rival Chicago Fire, the New England Revolution will aim to begin a new streak on Saturday night against the Kansas City Wizards. Coincidentally, the Wizards will be looking to do the same.
Much like the Revs (6-10-3, 21 pts.) had their season-long run (6-0-2) halted in the Windy City, the Wizards (5-9-5, 20 pts.) saw their own four-game undefeated streak (2-0-2) end in San Jose with a 1-0 loss to the Earthquakes last weekend. Both teams are currently on the outside looking in at the playoff picture, as the Revs occupy fifth place in the Eastern Conference, one point ahead of the sixth-place Wizards. The Revolution could pull to within two points of the final postseason spot with a victory on Saturday night.
While the Revs had hoped to pick up a pair of victories on the current road trip – an outcome now impossible following the loss to Chicago – the players are wholly focused on taking three points home from Kansas City.
“We’re just doing our best to put the Chicago result behind us at this point,” said Chris Tierney, who returned to left midfield against the Fire after playing as a makeshift right back last weekend against Houston. “We came on the road expecting to get six points out of two games. Obviously, that’s not possible (anymore), but we want to take maximum points possible from this game and we’re going out to get three.”
The Revs will have to overcome a bevy of obstacles in order to obtain the desired three points, beginning with their own fatigue. Currently at the tail end of a two-game road trip, the players will have been on the road for five days before taking the field against the Wizards, while they’ll have played a taxing game against the Fire just three days prior. This is only the third time in the last three years the Revs have played two games on one road trip, and they’ve not fared well in the second game on the previous two occasions, going 0-1-1.
Then there are the Revolution’s struggles on the road, where the club is just 1-7-1 with six goals scored this season. This weekend’s opponent won’t make matters any easier, as the Revs are 0-4-1 in their last five regular-season games against Kansas City.
But perhaps the biggest obstacle on Saturday night will be the venue, CommunityAmerica Ballpark. Often referred to as a “bandbox,” the stadium is well-known for its narrow field dimensions which provide little room to roam and a decided home-field advantage for the Wizards.
“You don’t have any choice; you have to play differently,” said head coach Steve Nicol of how visiting teams can cope with the tight confines. “There’s not a lot of room. We want to pass it, but you have to pick and choose when to pass it and when not.
“The only thing you know on [that] field is there’s going to be a lot of activity in the penalty box at both ends,” Nicol continued. “Defensively, we have to be on our toes and make sure we’re the ones getting the first and second balls. On the other side, we want to be the ones getting the first and second balls attacking-wise.”
Because of the narrow confines at CommunityAmerica Ballpark, creative attacking play is largely limited. That makes set pieces all the more important.
In three previous visits to CommunityAmerica Ballpark, the Revs have scored four total goals. Three of those goals have been the direct result of a set piece – two from indirect free kicks and one from a corner kick. Meanwhile, three of the Wizards’ five goals in those meetings have also resulted from dead-ball situations.
The reliance on set pieces bodes well for the Revolution, which has scored five goals in all competitions this season from dead-ball situations, including three directly off the left foot of Marko Perovic. Kansas City has not had the same success in 2010, scoring just once from an indirect free kick.
“That’s something we’re happy to take on,” said Tierney, who contributed to one of the Revolution’s set-piece goals by serving a free kick to Pat Phelan earlier this month. “I think we feel the more set pieces we have, the better. We’ve been good on them all year. We’ve defended pretty well from set pieces, as well, so I think we’re ready for what they have to throw at us and hopefully we’ll get a goal off one.”
Because the small field tends to hinder offensive creativity, it stands to reason it can actually help a team on the defensive side of the ball. For a defensively sound Revolution side which has conceded just four goals in its last nine games in all competitions, the tight confines could actually provide an even further boost.
“From a defensive standpoint, it helps us a bit,” said defender Cory Gibbs, who left the Chicago loss in the 69th minute after aggravating an ankle injury but is expected to start against the Wizards. “We just have to do what we do well, keep it compact and do what we’ve been doing for the last (few) games.”
With Gibbs available, it’s possible the Revolution could trot out the same starting lineup in back-to-back games for the first time since April 24 and May 1. On the other hand, the Wizards will be forced to alter the starting lineup they’ve used for their last five games because of a suspension to forward Teal Bunbury. The rookie is Kansas City’s third-leading scorer with two goals and one assist, but he’ll be unavailable against New England after he was disciplined for an altercation with Earthquakes defender Tim Ream last weekend.
Suspensions are nothing new in the budding Revolution-Wizards rivalry, a series which has included at least one red card in each of the last five meetings. With both teams scrapping for points in the playoff race, tensions could be high once again on Saturday night.
“There’s definitely a little something,” said Tierney when asked about the rivalry with Kansas City. “I think especially this year you’ll see a physical game considering both teams need points … We’re ready to go. We’re ready for a fight and we’re going to bring it.”