CARSON, Calif. – It’s been more than five months since the New England Revolution won a league game away from home. The date was April 3 and the venue was RFK Stadium, where the Revs claimed a 2-0 win over D.C. United on the strength of two late goals by Kenny Mansally.
Since claiming three points that early April evening in our Nation’s Capital, the Revs have gone winless (0-7-1) in eight regular-season road games, dropping their overall road record to a league-worst 1-8-1. While the Revs have scored 17 goals in their 12 home games, they’ve scored just seven goals in 10 games away from Gillette Stadium.
The Revolution’s struggles on the road will be put to the ultimate test in the coming weeks, as the club’s next three games are away from home against Western Conference teams. The odyssey begins on Friday night at The Home Depot Center, where the Revs (7-12-3, 24 pts.) will visit Chivas USA (6-12-4, 22 pts.) looking to close the eight-point gap currently separating them from the final playoff spot.
“We’ve got to grind,” said midfielder Chris Tierney. “We’ve got to work hard. We have to be organized. We’ve got to be smart, most of all. We’ve just got to make sure we come out and we take initiative in these games and try to put teams under pressure instead of letting them do that to us. I think if we do that, we can get some wins.”
“It definitely is (harder playing on the road),” said head coach Steve Nicol. “They’re always tough trips, but we’re coming off the back of a good win, we’ve had a couple days of rest, so hopefully we should be up and at it on Friday.”
The win to which Nicol refers is the character-testing, come-from-behind 3-1 victory over Seattle Sounders FC last weekend at Gillette Stadium. Despite going down a goal midway through the second half, the Revs responded with three goals in an 11-minute span to snap a four-game losing streak in all competitions.
New England secured three massive points with that victory, but the confidence gained from the gutsy performance may prove more beneficial as the Revs head on the road for three straight.
“This game’s all about momentum and right now we’re coming off a good performance,” said Tierney, who sparked the comeback against the Sounders with his first MLS goal. “Hopefully we can carry and take the good things from the Seattle game to LA and get three points.”
Much of the success the Revolution had in that victory over the Sounders was spurred by the club’s willingness to push the tempo and pin the opponent back in the defensive end. The Revs fired 10 shots on target against Seattle, while the Sounders managed to test Revolution goalkeeper Matt Reis just three times.
The Revs came to life particularly after falling behind to Steve Zakuani’s 59th-minute goal, and while the response was encouraging, captain Shalrie Joseph believes the Revolution would be better served to adopt that mentality from the opening whistle.
“I think we’ve got to learn to [push the tempo] from the beginning and not wait until we’re 1-0 down,” he said. “(We have to) start pushing from the [opening] whistle and then take the game to them a little bit more, and just dictate the tempo and the pace of the game.”
Of course, it’s one thing to take the initiative within the familiar confines of Gillette Stadium – it’s quite another to do it on the road, where teams are typically more cautious. But with the final playoff spot still eight points out of reach with eight games remaining in the regular season, the Revs don’t have the luxury of taking a careful approach.
“Sometimes we’ve got to keep a little bit more numbers behind the ball,” said Joseph, aware of the dangers of opening up too much away from home. “But right now we’re in a position where we need three points and we need to get points to make a difference and make that playoff push.
“Against Chivas USA, I think we’re going to start the game off right by pushing the tempo and start dictating, dominating control of the midfield.”
Perhaps the Revolution player best suited to put opponents under pressure is speedy right midfielder Sainey Nyassi, who has returned to the Revs after missing the win over the Sounders and the SuperLiga 2010 final while on national team duty in Gambia. Nyassi’s one-on-one dribbling ability and his blistering foot speed have the capability to terrorize left backs, but it remains to be seen how fresh the 21-year-old will be after traveling to and from Africa before crossing the country to California two days later.
“Absolutely it enters our thinking,” said Nicol when asked if he’ll consider Nyassi’s recent whirlwind travels when naming his starting lineup against Chivas USA. “We try to figure out what’s best for the team, so we have to consider everything, and that’s what we’ll do.”
While Nyassi admitted his hectic schedule has taken a toll on his body, he believes he’s had sufficient rest and plans on being ready to go on Friday night.
“I think I’m alright,” he said after Thursday afternoon’s training session in California. “Right now I’m feeling good and I think I’m ready for this game.”
Should Nyassi be deemed fresh enough to slot back into the starting lineup, it’s likely Kheli Dube – who filled in on the right side of midfield in Nyassi’s absence – will be pushed into the second forward role left vacant by the suspended Marko Perovic. If Nyassi’s unable to start on Friday night, Dube will likely continue on the right wing and either Zack Schilawski or Mansally – who was also in Gambia with Nyassi last week – would join Ilija Stolica up top.
Whichever players take the field for the Revolution at The Home Depot Center, they’ll undoubtedly remember Chivas USA’s heavy 4-0 win over the Revs on May 5 at Gillette Stadium. New England played a large portion of that game with just nine men following a pair of red cards, but the result stung just the same and there will be an element of revenge at stake on Friday night.
“You always keep results against whatever team you’re playing against in the back of your mind,” Tierney said. “So we’re going to go out there remembering that they put a little bit of a beating on us at home and embarrassed us a little bit in front of our fans, so we’d love to go out and do the same to them.”