FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Although an improved performance failed to produce goals in a scoreless draw with the Colorado Rapids last weekend, the New England Revolution aims to build upon the positives from that showing when the club hosts expansion side Vancouver Whitecaps FC on Saturday, May 14, at Gillette Stadium.
The Revs (2-3-4, 10 pts.) and Whitecaps (1-4-5, 8 pts.) will get underway at 7:30 p.m., with Comcast SportsNet New England televising the game live in high definition and 98.5 The Sports Hub handling the radio call on its HD2 channel.
Current Form: Goal-shy Revs searching for creativity; Whitecaps winless since season opener
Ryan Cochrane and Benny Feilhaber hit the woodwork and Shalrie Joseph had a point-blank header saved, but ultimately the Revs were shut out for the fourth time in their last five league games in a 0-0 draw with the Rapids last Saturday night in the front end of a two-game home-stand. The result leaves the Revs with just one win from their last seven regular-season matches (1-3-3).
Despite the dearth of goals, the Revolution had perhaps its best showing of the season in terms of possession against Colorado and subsequently blanked its opponent for the first time in 2011. This weekend against the Whitecaps, the Revs will look to replicate that performance while adding bite in the attacking third.
“There’s a reason why we’ve got four draws, and it’s because our ball in the final third hasn’t been good enough to get us the goals to win the games,” said head coach Steve Nicol. “So we need to continue to work on that and hopefully starting Saturday we’ll be a lot better than we’ve been.”
The Whitecaps have similarly struggled in recent weeks, netting seven goals in the first three games of the season but stalling offensively with just five goals in their last seven league matches. Since starting its inaugural MLS season with a thrilling 4-2 win over Toronto FC on March 19, Vancouver has stumbled to a 0-4-5 record in its last nine games and is currently perched just two points above the San Jose Earthquakes at the bottom of the Western Conference standings.
Past Meetings: First-ever meeting on April 6 finished with honors even at Empire Field
Saturday night’s match will conclude the 2011 regular-season series between the Revs and Whitecaps, marking the first completed series for either side this year.
There was high drama when New England and Vancouver battled in the Pacific Northwest on April 6 – the first-ever meeting between the teams – with Ilija Stolica’s 93rd-minute goal cancelling out Eric Hassli’s 55th-minute penalty kick as the clubs played to a 1-1 draw. Unfortunately, the game was marred by a trio of red cards as the Revolution eventually ended the match with a 10 vs. 9 man advantage.
“I don’t think you’re going to see that type of game here,” said central midfielder Pat Phelan, who is hopeful of returning to the lineup after recovering from a concussion and shin contusion in recent weeks. “In a way, we didn’t really get to see everything that they had because of all the fouls and red cards. It’ll be a completely different game. We just have to be ready for whatever comes at us.”
Injury Report: Influential trio missing for New England; Hassli doubtful for Vancouver
Nicol has yet to name an identical starting lineup in back-to-back games this season, and that streak is guaranteed to continue this weekend.
After returning from a right quad strain to make a successful MLS debut last Saturday night against Colorado, Ousmane Dabo strained his right adductor during Tuesday morning’s rain-slicked training session and has subsequently been ruled out for this weekend’s game. Joining him on the sidelines once again will be Didier Domi (L quad strain) and Marko Perovic (L knee sprain).
Injuries are also a major concern for the Whitecaps, who recently added Hassli to their injury list after the Designated Player tweaked his hamstring in Wednesday night’s 1-1 draw with the San Jose Earthquakes. Vancouver head coach Teitur Thordarson said it was “doubtful” Hassli would make the trip to New England, meaning he’ll likely stay behind along with Atiba Harris (R knee surgery) and John Thorrington (R calf strain).
There is a bit of good news for the Whitecaps, who welcomed the return of captain Jay DeMerit against the Earthquakes. The U.S. National Team defender missed extended time with a groin strain but made a 15-minute substitute appearance on Wednesday as he works his way back to fitness.
Key Player: Revolution forward Rajko Lekic
With the Revolution struggling to score goals in recent weeks, many have turned their attention to the form of Danish striker Rajko Lekic, who has scored one goal in his first four appearances with the Revs.
Lekic showed a glimpse of his ability with a fantastic flashing header against Sporting Kansas City on April 23, but he’s been largely frustrated by a lack of service and has registered just two shots on target. New England’s coaching staff has emphasized better decision making and getting the ball into the box throughout the week, so look for Lekic to be the beneficiary of any team-wide improvements.
“He has to keep getting himself into positions to be available for the ball,” Nicol said of Lekic. “We lacked that creativity to get him the ball when it matters (against Colorado).”
Final Thoughts: Revs aim to push the tempo against weary Whitecaps
For the second straight weekend, the Revs welcome an opponent to Gillette Stadium which played a midweek game in a different time zone. In this case, the Whitecaps hosted the Earthquakes on Wednesday night in Vancouver and spent all of Thursday making the long journey east.
The Whitecaps have generally struggled away from home in the early part of the season – going 0-3-1 in four previous road trips – and combined with their weary legs, the Revs will be looking to take advantage from the opening whistle.
“It makes the start of the game all that much more important for us,” said Chris Tierney. “I think we need to really make sure we come out and stand up physically, really get after them, play in their half and set the tone.”