FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – The end of the 2014 FIFA World Cup group stage signals the resumption of MLS action as the New England Revolution returns to league play on Saturday night against the Philadelphia Union.
The Revs (7-5-2, 23 pts.) will host the Union (3-7-6, 15 pts.) for the only time this season at Gillette Stadium. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. with both Comcast SportsNet and 98.5 The Sports Hub covering the game.
Current Form: Revs aim for return to East’s summit: Union adjusts after Hackworth’s departure
Both the Revolution and Union used the recent break from regular-season action to focus on the U.S. Open Cup, advancing to the competition’s quarterfinal round, where the two sides will meet on July 8 at PPL Park.
But for now attention returns to MLS play and on Saturday night the Revs could return to the top of the Eastern Conference after falling out of first place just before the World Cup break. A five-game winning streak through April and May was slightly dampened by a pair of losses to Montreal and New York before the hiatus, but with rested legs and a World Cup-fueled motivation, the players are ready for a hectic summer schedule.
“I’m really excited,” said A.J. Soares. “Watching the World Cup just motivates you. You see that quality of football and you just want to go out and play, you know? I think it’s good that we had Open Cup. Guys have gotten minutes and guys that needed rest got rest. It came at the perfect time and we’re ready to start the second half of the season.”
Philadelphia, meanwhile, is a team in transition having parted ways with manager John Hackworth following the most recent league match – a 3-3 draw with the Vancouver Whitecaps. Assistant coach Jim Curtin has taken over on an interim basis and after a pair of Open Cup wins, will make his MLS coaching debut on Saturday.
“It changes a lot of things, quite frankly,” Revs head coach Jay Heaps said of the coaching switch. “It changes how they play – I think the style in which they’re going to play changes – and the actual formation changes a bit. The players don’t change; you can’t overhaul a team that quickly. But at the same time, I think that we’re familiar with the players, we just may see them in a little different capacity.”
Past Meetings: Familiar foes set to meet for a third time in 2014 after splitting first two matches
Yet another meeting between the Revs and Union looms in the U.S. Open Cup quarterfinals on July 8, but Saturday night’s matchup at Gillette Stadium will conclude the three-game regular-season series.
The previous two meetings this season have both taken place at PPL Park, where the Revolution suffered a 1-0 loss in the second game of the season in mid-March, before gaining a measure of revenge in mid-May with a comprehensive 5-3 triumph.
Five different players scored for the Revs in that most recent victory, marking the second time in the past three meetings the Revs have scored five goals against the Union (including a 5-1 win in Foxborough last August).
Injury Report: Revs feeling fresh after World Cup break; Union dealing with a few knocks
One of the biggest benefits of the recent break was simply rest, which allowed the Revs to get themselves near full health as the league schedule resumes. Only Shalrie Joseph (L calf strain) is listed on the injury report, while Jerry Bengtson (Honduras) is not expected to return from World Cup duty in time for this weekend’s match.
Heaps has no doubt the players are fresh and eager to get after it as those who didn’t play in the Open Cup haven’t seen game action in three weeks. But that lack of recent game action also means the Revolution’s coaching staff has spent a bit of extra time this week focusing on some of the basics.
“There are guys that I feel needed a little bit of a rest and it came at a good time,” Heaps said. “The key for them isn’t the eagerness, it’s going to be the sharpness. I think they’re all ready to go and we’ve just got to get them sharp.”
Philadelphia will be without Ethan White (R ankle sprain) – yet to make an MLS appearance with the Union after being acquired from D.C. United in January – while Conor Casey (low back strain), Vincent Nogueira (L groin strain) and Aaron Wheeler (R calf contusion) are all listed as questionable.
Final Thoughts: With hectic summer schedule looming, Revs hope to kick-start a strong run
“We want to start the second half of the season with a win,” said Soares. “Playing at home, we’re confident we can win. We always think we’re going to win at home. It’s important. We want to go out there, have a good performance and get three points, then roll through July with that momentum. July’s going to be tough. August is going to be tough. But this is MLS; it’s like this every year. The summer’s tough, but we can get through it.”