FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Seven months down, one to go.
The New England Revolution will kick off the final month of the 2018 regular season on Saturday afternoon when they’ll visit league-leading Atlanta United FC for a nationally-televised tilt at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
The Revs (8-11-11, 35 pts) will head south five points back of the playoff places in the Eastern Conference with four games left on the schedule, and need a win as they chase the Montreal Impact (12-15-4, 40 pts.) and D.C. United (10-11-8, 38 pts.) for the final postseason berth.
Atlanta (19-6-6, 63 pts.) have already locked up their playoff spot, but their lead over the New York Red Bulls (19-7-5, 62 pts.) in the Supporters’ Shield race is just one point heading into the season’s final month.
Coverage begins at 3:30 p.m. ET on Saturday, with Univision televising the action to a national audience. The game will also be streamed live on Twitter through both the MLS and Univision accounts. The local radio call will be available in English on 98.5 The Sports Hub and in Portuguese on 1260 AM Nossa Radio USA.
Revolution fans can watch alongside their fellow supporters at the club’s official watch party presented by Budweiser at La Hacienda in East Boston (150 Meridian Street).
Current Form: Revs’ unbeaten run snapped in Toronto; Atlanta maintains Shield lead
A bright start faded into a frustrating second half as the Revs suffered a 4-1 loss to defending MLS Cup champions Toronto FC last weekend, a result that snapped the Revs’ modest four-game unbeaten run (1-0-3).
Head coach Brad Friedel pointed to Scott Caldwell’s halftime exit – forced by an ankle injury – as the turning point for the Revs, who became unbalanced after the change. Now they’ll need to cope without the suspended Caldwell (yellow-card accumulation) on Saturday as they aim to bounce back against the league leaders.
“We were a completely different team, mentality-wise (in the second half in Toronto),” Friedel said. “That can’t happen against Atlanta, or any team for that matter. We have to go out and try to get four wins. We’re going to have to try to keep clean sheets.”
“We need to sort things out, even though we’ve been doing this all year,” added Kelyn Rowe, who started at left back at BMO Field. “We need to cancel out all these mistakes and move forward, so we know what we need to do in these next four games. We need to win. It’s pretty obvious, and we’re looking to do so.”
Atlanta are also coming off a road loss, having dropped a 2-0 result to the New York Red Bulls last weekend at Red Bull Arena. The loss was just Atlanta’s sixth of the season and their third in the last 19 games, but it pulled the Red Bulls to within one point of the Five Stripes at the top of the league table.
With just three games left on their schedule and the slimmest of leads in the Supporters’ Shield race, Saturday’s game is critical for Atlanta as they aim to lock up home-field advantage throughout the MLS Cup Playoffs.
Josef Martinez has garnered plenty of attention as he’s established a new single-season scoring record with 30 goals (and counting), but Miguel Almiron (12 goals, 14 assists) is the engine in Atlanta’s midfield, and slowing him down will be the key on Saturday according to Friedel.
“They have excellent players, but their main player is Almiron,” Friedel said. “He gets the ball in the open field. He creates most of their activity going forward. I know Martinez has the goals, and he’s a very good finisher, indeed, but a lot of their game is geared toward Almiron getting the ball in the open field and getting forward. That’s something we’re going to have to try to look to stop.”
Past Meetings: Revs still in search of their first win over the Five Stripes
Saturday’s clash will be just the fourth overall meeting between New England and Atlanta, which joined MLS as an expansion side last season. The Five Stripes have held the upper hand in that brief history, as the Revs remain in search of a first win over their Eastern Conference foe.
The teams have played to a pair of draws in Foxborough, most recently this past May when Teal Bunbury’s 88th-minute equalizer earned the Revolution a share of the points. The only meeting at Mercedes-Benz Stadium last September saw the Revs decimated by a pair of first-half red cards in a 7-0 loss, their heaviest in club history.
Bunbury’s late penalty in that 1-1 draw in May is currently the Revolution’s only goal against Atlanta, as the other meeting was a scoreless draw at Gillette Stadium last September.
Injury Report: Caldwell (yellow-card accumulation) unavailable in Atlanta
Center back Antonio Delamea will be available for selection on Saturday after serving a one-game suspension last weekend, but as previously mentioned, Caldwell will be suspended for the trip to Atlanta after picking up his seventh yellow card of the season last weekend in Toronto.
Caldwell has been a key piece of the Revolution’s midfield this year, appearing in 22 games, but the Revs are confident that they can fill the gap in the center of the park.
“Guys are going to have to step up and play that same role,” said Andrew Farrell. “Scotty is a guy who is a big part of this team, and it’s a hard role to fill, but we’ve got guys who can step up and do that.”
Final Thoughts: Friedel calls for intensity, belief, determination and bravery in Atlanta
“I think it’s important that Atlanta should know that we have some weapons, as well,” said Friedel. “I don’t think patience is the word to it – I think intensity is a good word. I think having belief, having determination with what we’re doing, and having bravery with and without the ball. I think those are more important than patience.
“I think the game is going to be an exciting one, and hopefully we do the right things defensively to be able to get on top.”