FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – The New England Revolution closes out its 2011 home schedule on Saturday, Oct. 15, when the Columbus Crew visits Gillette Stadium for an Eastern Conference battle with playoff implications.
The Revs (5-15-12, 27 pts.) and Crew (12-12-8, 44 pts.) will get underway at 7:30 p.m. as the home side celebrates Fan Appreciation Night with a series of promotions and giveaways. For those not in attendance, the game will be televised live in high definition on Comcast SportsNet New England and the radio call will be available on 98.5 The Sports Hub’s HD2 station.
Current Form: Crew in midst of playoff push as Revs look to play role of spoiler
Four straight losses – the past three all by a single goal – have seen the Revs slip to the bottom of the Major League Soccer standings, but Saturday night’s meeting with the Crew presents one final chance to put together a quality performance in front of the hometown fans. New England has struggled to a league-worst 4-6-6 record at home this season and the players are eager to provide some consolation to the loyal supporters with a victory in the home finale.
“We want to show our appreciation for the fans this year in sticking with us, so it’d be great to get some goals for them and also to win the game,” said Chris Tierney, who’s started the past three games at left back. “We want to show well any time we put on the jersey, so we’ll be looking to win.”
“This is our last chance to compel the fans to come back next year and show them that we’ve got something here,” said Ryan Guy, who could potentially make his fourth straight start on the right wing. “I think we’ve shown over the last couple games, at least, that we’ve got a spark, that we’re excited. We’ve got some new blood in here and we’re ready to push on for next year.”
While the Revs’ postseason fate has already been determined, that’s not the case for the Crew, which enters this weekend three points out of first place in the Eastern Conference but just four points ahead of the playoff-chasing Portland Timbers. As such, Saturday night’s match has massive playoff implications for Columbus, which snapped a six-game winless streak with a 2-1 win over D.C. United in its last match on Oct. 2.
“They’re going for the playoffs, so they’ve got to come in and get something from the game,” said Revolution head coach Steve Nicol, who’ll be at the helm for his 300th regular-season game with New England. “We’re not playing the last two games just for fun. We want to get some points and we want to win. We do have pride. We’re not happy with the way the season’s gone, but we’ve certainly got our pride and that’s exactly what we’ll be playing for.”
Past Meetings: Second-half comeback lifted Columbus to 3-1 victory on Aug. 13
Benny Feilhaber scored in the 45th minute to give the visiting Revs a halftime lead, but a trio of second-half goals lifted the Crew to a 3-1 victory in the season’s first meeting on Aug. 13 at Crew Stadium.
The loss dropped New England’s record to 2-6-3 in the club’s last 11 regular-season matches against Columbus, but perhaps most surprising is that both wins during that stretch have come at Crew Stadium. The Revs are winless (0-3-2) in their last five home games against the Crew and haven’t beaten Columbus at Gillette Stadium since a 1-0 win on Oct. 14, 2006.
Injury Report: Reis still out with hamstring strain; Lekic, Nyassi upgraded to probable
Revolution goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth is in line to make his second straight start between the pipes with starter Matt Reis still nursing a right hamstring strain. Shuttleworth made five saves in last weekend’s 2-1 loss to the San Jose Earthquakes but saw his 2011 record drop to 0-3-2 in the process.
At the other end of the spectrum, forward Rajko Lekic (L ankle sprain) and midfielder Sainey Nyassi (R hamstring strain) could feature this weekend after the duo was upgraded to probable on Friday’s injury report. Lekic has missed the past three games after spraining his ankle in Portland on Sept. 16, while Nyassi hasn’t appeared since Aug. 6 against Chivas USA while dealing with knee and hamstring injuries.
Columbus features a slew of question marks in the injury department entering the weekend. Midfielder Tony Tchani is the only certainty as he’s out while recovering from right knee surgery, but Tommy Heinemann (lower back strain), Chad Marshall (L ankle sprain), Danny O’Rourke (L knee tightness), Robbie Rogers (R hamstring strain) and Rich Balchan (abdominal strain) were listed as questionable on Tuesday. Of that group, Heinemann, Marshall, Rogers and Balchan have each made at least 19 appearances this season.
Key Player: Revolution central midfielder Shalrie Joseph
The players and coaches have changed throughout the years, but regardless of the personnel, Columbus always seems to fit the stereotype as one of the league’s most physical, hard-working sides. Previous meetings between the Revs and Crew have quite often hinged on the physical battle – particularly in central midfield – leaving much of the onus on Revolution captain Shalrie Joseph to establish a tone and dictate the tempo.
“That’s their game,” said Tierney when asked about Columbus’ physical approach. “They have some big guys in the back, some really athletic players, and they have some good wide guys who like to get balls into the box. It’s going to be a tough game, no doubt about it, especially considering what’s at stake. We expect a physical battle, but we’re a physical team ourselves and hopefully we’ll be able to stand up to it.”
Final Thoughts: Concentration critical as Revs aim to eliminate mistakes
“We just have to concentrate,” said Nicol. “Concentration and attack the ball, certainly defensively. If we concentrate and attack the ball, then I’m sure we’ll be fine.”
“Concentration’s huge,” echoed Guy. “Mistakes typically come from a lack of concentration. There’s no doubt that the guys on the team have enough skill to not make those mistakes, so it is something different. But I think some mental changes are going to be big for us this week. I think we’ve had a good week of training and hopefully that’s going to push all of us to focus that little bit more.”