FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Since the first day of preseason training camp back in late January, New England Revolution head coach Steve Nicol has emphasized quality in possession as the key to his side’s success.
Through the first 12 games of the regular season, Nicol’s assertion has proven prophetic. When the Revs have been strong in possession and linked passes together for extended periods – most notably in a scoreless draw with the Colorado Rapids on May 7 – they’ve been successful. When they’ve been loose with possession and given the ball away in dangerous areas, they’ve struggled.
As important as possession has been in determining the Revolution’s level of success to this point in the season, quality on the ball likely takes on increased significance this weekend when the Revs battle the stifling Texas heat at Pizza Hut Park against FC Dallas.
“You can’t be chasing,” said Pat Phelan, who could potentially replace the injured Benny Feilhaber (R ankle sprain) in central midfield. “It’s important to go out there and make the field as big as you can, do your work off the ball and get in good spots to maintain possession, because if you’re just chasing around, they’ll pick you apart.”
Temperatures are expected to soar into the mid-to-upper 90s in the Dallas area this weekend, making fatigue a primary concern for both sides as they prepare to take the field on Saturday night. Midweek forecasts in Texas have shown temperatures consistently remaining in the lower 90s even into the evening hours.
With those conditions in mind, the Revs will be focused on controlling the pace of the game in an effort to make their opponents do the chasing.
“Don’t give the ball away,” Nicol said matter-of-factly when asked how the Revs could combat the effects of the heat. “If you don’t give the ball away, you don’t have to chase it as much, so that’ll certainly be a huge factor.”
Two players who could potentially swing the possession advantage in New England’s favor are central midfielders Shalrie Joseph and Ousmane Dabo. Joseph provides a massive boost in the middle after declining Grenada’s invitation to join the country’s 2011 CONCACAF Gold Cup roster – instead choosing to remain with the Revolution throughout the tournament – while Dabo is hopeful of returning to the lineup after missing three games with a right adductor strain.
Dabo has made just one appearance this season, but was instrumental in aiding the Revs’ possession in the aforementioned 0-0 draw with Colorado.
“The difference (he makes) on the ball makes it easier for players around him to make moves, because you know he’s not giving it away,” Nicol said of Dabo’s influence. “That’s the biggest plus. When he gets [the ball], nine times out of 10 it sticks.”
With Joseph and Dabo potentially leading the charge in midfield, the Revs will be hoping for a quick start similar to the one they had on their last visit to Pizza Hut Park in September 2010, when Joseph’s fifth-minute goal helped his side settle down en route to a 2-2 draw.
“I think if we get that first goal, it’s going to allow us to play a little bit more and not be so worried about the heat,” said Joseph. “We don’t have to chase the game so much; we can keep possession and just be a better team.”