FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Two of Major League Soccer’s five remaining unbeaten teams will do battle on Saturday night when the New England Revolution welcomes Real Salt Lake to Gillette Stadium.
The game will be televised live in high definition on Comcast SportsNet New England beginning at 7:30 p.m., while the radio call will be available on 98.5 The Sports Hub.
Both sides enter Saturday night’s contest following midweek matches thousands of miles away from Foxborough. The Revs (1-0-3, 6 pts.) visited Vancouver Whitecaps FC on Wednesday night in the Pacific Northwest, while RSL (2-0-0, 6 pts.) traveled to Costa Rica for a CONCACAF Champions League semifinal against Saprissa on Tuesday.
Current Form: Revs and RSL set to put unbeaten records on the line
Second-half substitute Ilija Stolica scored a dramatic equalizer deep into stoppage time to salvage a 1-1 draw for the Revs on Wednesday night against the Whitecaps, continuing New England’s unbeaten start to the season. The result propelled the Revolution into a tie with the Philadelphia Union atop the Eastern Conference standings, although the Revs have played a league-high four games.
Real Salt Lake arrived in Foxborough earlier this week directly from Costa Rica, where the Claret-and-Cobalt became the first MLS club to advance to the CONCACAF Champions League finals with a 3-2 aggregate win over Saprissa despite a 2-1 loss in the second leg. RSL has done well to balance its participation in the outside competition with league play, where the club has won its first two games, including an impressive 4-1 rout of the LA Galaxy.
Past Meetings: RSL, Saborio have had Revs’ number in recent years
The Revs have managed just one win in their last six meetings with RSL, a 3-1 triumph on Aug. 23, 2009, fueled by Kheli Dube’s hat trick. Salt Lake has claimed four victories in that stretch, while the teams have played to one draw.
RSL swept the season series last year, rolling to a 5-0 win at Rio Tinto Stadium in early July before escaping from Gillette Stadium with a 2-1 win exactly three months later. Alvaro Saborio terrorized the Revolution in those two matches, scoring three of Salt Lake’s seven goals.
Injury Report: Coria and Perovic could return; Dabo and Reis likely still out
The suspension of A.J. Soares for Saturday night’s game leaves a hole in the center of the Revolution’s defense, but the gap could be filled by Franco Coria (L hamstring strain), who has been upgraded to “Probable” after missing the last two games because of injury. Otherwise, third-year defender Darrius Barnes is likely to partner Ryan Cochrane in the middle.
Also upgraded to “Probable” on Friday was playmaking midfielder Marko Perovic (L hamstring strain), who is looking to make his return after leaving the season opener in LA after just 22 minutes. Meanwhile, both Ousmane Dabo (R quad strain) and Matt Reis (R adductor strain) are unlikely to be available this weekend.
In comparison, RSL is remarkably healthy with seemingly no one ruled out for this weekend’s game because of injury. Five players – including MLS’ player of the month for March, goalkeeper Nick Rimando (R ankle bone spur) – are on Salt Lake’s most recent injury report, but all five are listed as “Probable” with minor injuries.
Key Matchup: Revolution’s central midfield vs. RSL’s central midfield
As is often the case, the flow of Saturday night’s game will likely be dictated by the team which wins the central midfield battle.
The Revs have deployed a three-man central midfield in each of their first four games, grouping captain Shalrie Joseph with Stephen McCarthy and Pat Phelan in a fluid formation. Should that be the case again this weekend, the trio will be tested by one of the league’s most dynamic central midfield combinations in Real Salt Lake’s Kyle Beckerman and Javier Morales, both of whom were First XI selections for the 2010 MLS All-Star Team.
New England’s central midfield will be tasked not only with limiting the creativity of Morales, but also snuffing out the ball-winning tendencies of Beckerman.
Final Thoughts: Weary legs make a strong mentality key for both teams
Revolution head coach Steve Nicol ran his side through a light training session on Friday afternoon in an effort to recharge the legs following an extensive travel day on Thursday. Considering the additional stress of Wednesday’s meeting with the Whitecaps, this weekend’s game will test the Revs both mentally and physically.
“We have to be up and ready for it,” said Nicol. “We’re going to have to be smart, because they’re good with the ball. There’s no doubt they’re a good football team and they pass the ball. That means we have to be smart and get in good positions when we don’t have the ball, and obviously when we have it, try to do as much as we can and be as creative as possible.”