FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – The well-rested New England Revolution returns to action on Saturday night, hosting the Portland Timbers at Gillette Stadium to begin a stretch of five home games in a four-week span.
Fresh off a bye the Revs (8-12-2, 26 pts.) enter the weekend perched in seventh place in the Eastern Conference standings, one point back of the final playoff spot with a game in hand on both Philadelphia and Columbus. The Timbers (7-7-9, 30 pts.) are in a similar spot in the West, two points back of the final postseason berth.
Comcast SportsNet and 98.5 The Sports Hub will carry Saturday night’s game beginning at 7:30 p.m.
Current Form: Revs use bye week to reset before home stretch; Timbers hitting their stride
Last weekend’s bye came at a beneficial time for the Revs, who used the opportunity to reset both physically and mentally after losing nine of their past 10 games before the break. Now they’ll hope to carry a renewed outlook into a stretch in which they’ll play five of their next six games at home – a period which could go a long way in determining whether the Revs are playing postseason soccer come November.
“These next six games could be a little mini season for us and tilt us one way or the other,” said Steve Neumann. “It’s an exciting race in the Eastern Conference. I think there are a lot of really good teams that are separated by a few points, so coming down the stretch here in the second half of the season, it’s going to be very interesting.”
Portland finds itself in a similar situation in the Western Conference; the Timbers occupy seventh place, but trail fifth-place Vancouver Whitecaps FC by just two points and third-place FC Dallas by just six points. Caleb Porter’s side has put itself in the mix with a strong current run of form, winning three of the past four games.
The Timbers’ strength has been a balanced attack as their league-leading offense (38 goals) features four different players who’ve scored six or more times. But Portland’s open style also means plenty of goals against, having conceded 38 times, the highest total in the West.
“They have a lot of great players, they have a great coach and they have a great system. Any time you play in a game like that it’s going to be a fun time,” said Neumann. “I think we’ve been preparing well for them and I think we have a lot of players and a lot of talent that can give them some problems. So it’s going to be a fun game and hopefully we come out on top.”
Past Meetings: Revs and Timbers set to square off for just the fifth time
Saturday night’s match will be just the fifth all-time meeting between the Revs and Timbers, who’ve split the first four meetings evenly (both sides are 1-1-2) with an emphasis on home-field advantage.
While the Revs have never won in Portland, the same can be said of the Timbers in Foxborough. New England claimed a 1-0 win in the most recent meeting at Gillette Stadium to kick off the 2012 home slate, as the recently-traded Saer Sene scored 28 seconds into the match to earn Jay Heaps his first career victory as a head coach.
These sides met just once last year, playing to a 0-0 draw at Providence Park in early May. Revolution goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth made a career-high nine saves that night to record the shutout.
Injury Report: Dorman and Tierney still sidelined; Joseph available for selection
Knee injuries will continue to sideline both Andy Dorman (who’ll miss a sixth straight game) and Chris Tierney (who’ll miss a third straight game) this weekend, but there is good news for Shalrie Joseph.
The veteran midfielder has been removed from the injury report for the first time since returning to the Revolution almost four months ago, and his recent participation in full training sessions indicates he could be available for selection this weekend after overcoming a lingering calf strain.
“Shalrie’s working extremely hard; he’s had a tough go of injuries,” Heaps said. “About a week ago we were day-by-day, and now we’re looking at it a little further out. We can get a couple days of training and continue to build his fitness back. It’s good to have him out here because he has experience and he has an understanding of this league and what it takes to win.”
Portland lists three players on its official injury report, all questionable for the weekend. Key man Darlington Nagbe is on the list with a knee sprain, joined by midfielder Kalif Alhassan (muscle strain) and center back Pa Modou Kah (Achilles’ tendonitis).
Final Thoughts: The time is now for Revs to establish themselves as a playoff contender
“When you have a lot of home games, you want to do the best, meaning the best is getting the three points,” said captain Jose Goncalves. “Now we start realizing that we are getting close to the end of the season and it’s difficult if you start dropping very important points.
“We saw it last year and obviously we know in which position we are right now, so we are focused. It’s game after game and I believe we will make it.”