FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Although the New England Revolution is no longer in contention for a playoff spot, the club will have no shortage of motivation when 2009 MLS Cup champion Real Salt Lake visits Gillette Stadium on Saturday night.
The Revs (7-14-5, 26 pts.) will be in search of retribution after suffering a 5-0 loss – their heaviest setback of the season – on July 2 at Rio Tinto Stadium. Real Salt Lake (13-4-9, 48 pts.) ran riot over the Revs that night at the foot of the Wasatch Mountains, using a pair of goals from Alvaro Saborio and additional strikes from Fabian Espindola, Robbie Findley and Jamison Olave en route to a comfortable victory.
RSL visited Gillette Stadium under similar circumstances last year, traveling to Foxborough in August after handing the Revolution its worst loss in club history (6-0) in April. The Revs earned their revenge on that occasion, riding Kheli Dube’s first career hat trick to a 3-1 victory, and they’d love nothing more than to do the same on Saturday night.
“You always want to avenge a loss that you had in the past, especially one of that magnitude,” said defender Darrius Barnes. “They’ve gotten the better of us the past two years. They beat us 6-0 last year and 5-0 this year, so we definitely want to come out and avenge that loss.”
Midfielder Pat Phelan agreed the result in July would be a motivating factor this weekend, claiming professional athletes have long memories when it comes to significant defeats.
“I think the 6-0 loss from last year was on our minds when we played out there this year,” Phelan said. “You don’t forget things like that. We just want to stick it to them, because it’s not fun to lose that bad.”
If they are to claim their revenge, the Revs will have to do so without defenders Kevin Alston (L hamstring strain) and Cory Gibbs (infection), both of whom will be unavailable against Real Salt Lake. Alston aggravated a recurring hamstring injury in the first half of last Saturday’s 2-2 draw with the Columbus Crew, while Gibbs underwent a weekend procedure to relieve an infection on his hip.
Even with the impending return of Chris Tierney – who was a late scratch from the starting lineup last weekend with a left knee sprain – the Revolution will have to make multiple adjustments on the backline. Barnes, Emmanuel Osei and Seth Sinovic will be the only natural defenders available, while Tierney has split his time between midfield and defense this season and Phelan has made the occasional appearance at center back.
Regardless of the personnel along the backline, the Revs will have to be improved defensively after seeing two-goal leads evaporate in their last two matches, a pair of 2-2 draws with the Crew and FC Dallas. On both occasions, the Revs were seemingly in control with 2-0 leads deep into the second half before defensive lapses allowed their opponents back into the game.
The keys against Real Salt Lake will be putting together a 90-minute performance and stepping up at critical moments.
“We just need to have the quality at the right time, whether it’s in their box or whether it’s in our defensive area,” said head coach Steve Nicol. “If we defend properly and make good decisions at the right time and have that quality in defense, and at the same time when up the other end have that quality and take our chances, then we can win the game.”
Barnes said not only do the Revs need to keep their concentration from start to finish, but they should continue to press the initiative when in control of the game.
“We just have to stay focused,” he said. “When we get a lead – or even if we go down – we have to stay hungry and have that bite to finish games off. If we get a lead, we want to try to sustain it and make sure we’re doing the right things, manage the game well and try to get that next goal. I feel like in these last two games we could’ve gotten that third goal and it’s something we didn’t get, and it’s kind of haunted us come the end of the game.”
While Real Salt Lake has already clinched a playoff spot, the Western Conference side is just two points behind the LA Galaxy in the race for the Supporters Shield, so the visitors will have plenty of incentive on Saturday night. After assuring itself a spot in the knockout round of the CONCACAF Champions League with a midweek draw in Toronto, RSL can now turn its attention solely to league play and the quest for the top seed in the MLS Cup Playoffs.
With four more opportunities to prove themselves before heading into a longer-than-usual offseason, the Revs know they have a chance to make a statement against one of the league’s top teams this weekend.
“Salt Lake would be a great statement game for us,” said Phelan. “They’ve licked us twice at their place the last two years and I think they’re sitting pretty for the playoffs. They’re probably coming in here thinking we’re going to roll over, and it’s a good opportunity for us to set things right.”