KENNESAW, Ga. – Call it a dress rehearsal.
Sunday afternoon’s meeting between the New England Revolution and Houston Dynamo – which can be seen live on Comcast SportsNet New England at 3 p.m. ET – is the final preseason test for both clubs before kicking off the 2011 MLS regular season next weekend. As such, both sides are likely to approach the match with a regular-season mentality.
“It’s only one week until the season starts,” said Revolution forward Ilija Stolica. “We’re going to take this game very seriously.”
While the Revs will employ a businesslike attitude in the finale of the Atlanta Pro Soccer Challenge, the result of Sunday’s match still takes a backseat to the manner of the performance on the field. After a forgettable showing in a 3-1 loss to the Columbus Crew this past Wednesday night at Kennesaw State University Soccer Stadium, the Revolution will be looking for a return to the form which saw the club open the preseason with four consecutive wins.
The Revs struggled in possession at times in their recent loss to the Crew, and once again they’ve made improved control of the ball their top priority against the Dynamo.
“Everybody’s talked about it, but (we need) a little bit better possession and to not panic on the ball when we have the chance to go forward,” said central defender Ryan Cochrane, who had two separate stints in Houston from 2006-07 and 2009-10 before joining the Revs this past offseason. “(Against Columbus) I think we kind of got lulled into (a situation) when we got chances, [we tried] to break forward really fast and pick the perfect pass right away.”
“[Improved possession] will make it much easier to create chances and have control of the game,” added Stolica, who scored his first goal of the preseason in Wednesday’s loss to the Crew. “[We also] have to work on the individual mistakes. I think we all know what we did wrong and I think we’ll do it much better on Sunday.”
Unfortunately, the Revs won’t be at full strength as they make their final adjustments ahead the season opener against the LA Galaxy next Sunday, March 20.
The French duo of Ousmane Dabo (R quad strain) and Didier Domi (R knee swelling) will be unavailable, with Dabo already ruled out of the season opener and Domi currently in Boston receiving treatment on his right knee. Right back Kevin Alston remains sidelined, as well, as he continues his recovery from a left hamstring strain suffered in the Revolution’s first preseason match on Feb. 18.
Goalkeeper Matt Reis and central defender Franco Coria will also be bystanders this weekend, as both will be held out of Sunday’s meeting with the Dynamo for precautionary reasons. Reis has experienced tightness in his back since landing awkwardly in the Crew match on Wednesday, while Coria has a similar issue with his right hamstring.
Neither injury appears serious, but Nicol claims vigilance is best at this point in the season.
“We don’t want to take a chance,” he said. “There’s no point. We don’t get any points for tomorrow’s game. The goal is the first game of the season.”
With Reis unavailable, backup goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth will start between the pipes, while Cochrane and Chris Tierney are likely candidates to replace Coria and Domi, respectively, on the backline.
Regardless of the personnel, the goal for Sunday’s preseason finale remains the same – put forth an improved performance and build some momentum heading into next weekend’s showdown with the LA Galaxy at The Home Depot Center.
And of course, a win wouldn’t hurt, either.
“It’d be good for the psyche,” said Nicol. “Obviously we’d like to win the game, but if we can do some good things and be solid, that’ll be ideal for going into LA.”