FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Reenergized after a rare bye weekend, the New England Revolution returns to action on Saturday afternoon with a visit to the New York Red Bulls for a nationally televised Eastern Conference showdown.
Coverage from Red Bull Arena kicks off at 3:30 p.m. on the NBC Sports Network as both the Revs (2-4-0, 6 pts.) and Red Bulls (3-3-1, 10 pts.) play their second matches on the network. The radio call will be available on 98.5 The Sports Hub.
Current Form: NE aims to get back on track following bye weekend; NY hungry for redemption
For the second straight game the Revs conceded a late goal as Chris Pontius bagged the game winner in the 82nd minute, lifting D.C. United to a 2-1 win at Gillette Stadium on April 14. Pontius’ heroics came nine days after Ugo Ihemelu scored in the fifth minute of stoppage time to sink the Revs at FC Dallas Stadium.
Off last weekend, the Revs have had plenty of time to reflect on their recent performances, and despite the frustrating results, they’ve been encouraged by the progress shown early in the season.
“The results haven’t gone our way recently, especially in the last two games, but I thought we did enough against D.C. to at least get a point out of the game,” said left back Chris Tierney. “I think we’ve been getting better and better in terms of our style of play, keeping the ball and moving towards doing the things that we really want to be doing under [head coach Jay Heaps’] new style. I think things are moving in the right direction, but at the same time, it’s time to start picking up some points.”
Much like the Revs, the Red Bulls have had an up-and-down start to the 2012 season. After suffering a pair of losses to open the campaign, New York then became the first club in MLS history to rattle off three straight wins by three or more goals. But the Red Bulls have since fallen back to Earth, playing to a 2-2 draw at home with the San Jose Earthquakes before suffering a crushing 4-1 loss to D.C. at RFK Stadium last weekend.
Past Meetings: Revolution’s dominance over Red Bulls quelled in recent encounters
For a 14-game stretch spanning six years from 2005 to 2010 the Revs lorded over the Red Bulls, going unbeaten against their Eastern Conference rivals in the regular season with a record of 8-0-6. Additionally, the Revs eliminated the Red Bulls – formerly the MetroStars – from the playoffs in both 2005 and 2007.
But New York has slowly turned the tables in recent years as New England has just two wins in the past 10 encounters. The Revs are 0-2-1 in their last three meetings with the Red Bulls, including a pair of losses in their first two regular-season trips to Red Bull Arena.
Injury Report: Bye weekend gives ailing Revs time to recover; Red Bulls defense undermanned
Last weekend’s bye came at a fortuitous time for the Revs, who’ve dealt with a glut of injuries and suspensions in the early part of the season. Benny Feilhaber is back to full strength after making his return as a second-half substitute against D.C., Lee Nguyen has overcome the illness which limited his time against United and Shalrie Joseph is eligible to return from suspension.
There are still a few ailing Revs whose statuses for this weekend are up in the air, however, including Blake Brettschneider (R ankle sprain) and Ryan Guy (R calf tightness), both of whom are listed as questionable on Friday’s injury report.
New York’s backline has been decimated by injuries and suspensions, leaving the Red Bulls with an inexperienced defensive unit which struggled to contain D.C. in last weekend’s 4-1 loss. Defenders Roy Miller (L knee effusion), Wilman Conde (L groin strain) and Stephen Keel (back strain) are all out for this weekend’s match, while Rafa Marquez – a potential replacement for Conde in central defense – is in the midst of a three-game suspension. Right back Jan Gunnar Solli could also be sidelined after suffering a calf injury last weekend.
While the backline is New York’s major concern, forward Juan Agudelo (L knee surgery recovery) and midfielder Teemu Tainio (R knee sprain) will also miss out on Saturday afternoon.
Key Matchup: Entire Revolution lineup vs. Thierry Henry – Kenny Cooper
It’s admittedly a bit disingenuous to use an entire squad in a key matchup feature, but that was the message in Revs camp this week as they prepare to battle the formidable strike partnership of Thierry Henry and Kenny Cooper.
Henry (8 goals) is tied with Earthquakes forward Chris Wondolowski atop the league’s goal-scoring charts, while Cooper (7 goals) trails by a single tally. Henry and Cooper together have combined for more goals than any other single team in the league, and Heaps believes it’ll take an entire team effort to slow them down on Saturday.
“It’s important how we defend as a unit,” said Heaps. “You can’t defend what they do just by marking one or two guys and just staying on those guys. It’s impossible the way they flow, the way they move.
“It’s a collective effort,” he emphasized. “It’s not one or two guys responsible for their one or two guys. It’s going to be 11 guys dictating where we go and how we can take away what they have.”
Final Thoughts: Mental toughness the primary focus following pair of late losses
“We didn’t fight as hard as we needed to do,” right back Kevin Alston said of the recent setbacks. “We could’ve been a little tougher mentally. We could’ve fought more. We could’ve been a little bit more precise. We kind of just let the other teams slip away at the end.”
“Stay mentally focused the entire game,” center back Stephen McCarthy said when asked about the keys to victory against New York. “Not 90 (minutes); 93 or 94. It’s going to be mostly mental I think to really get through this one.”