Shalrie Joseph vs. RSL

Improvement necessary going forward

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – New England Revolution head coach Steve Nicol has been pleased with the way his side has defended through the first six games of the season.

The Revs are still searching for their first defensive shutout of 2011, but they’ve conceded just seven goals and are currently tied for eighth in the league with a 1.17 team goals against average. Newcomers Franco Coria, Didier Domi and A.J. Soares have helped shore up the backline, while returning stalwarts Kevin Alston, Darrius Barnes and goalkeeper Matt Reis have continued their steady performances.

But the Revolution has struggled generating an attack at the other end of the field, registering five goals in six games to rank tied for 13th in the league’s scoring charts. After scoring at least once in each of their first four games, the Revs have since been shut out in back-to-back losses to Real Salt Lake and the Houston Dynamo.

“The big thing for us is we need to make chances,” Nicol said ahead of this weekend’s game against Sporting Kansas City. “We’re not going to win games unless we make chances. That means we have to be in the opposing penalty area to get those chances, so that’s really [where] we’re looking.”

Second-year forward Zack Schilawski believes the answer to creating chances at one end of the field could start with the team’s posture at the other, suggesting that a higher defensive line could lead to more attacking opportunities.

“Sometimes we get into a tendency of bunkering down in our defensive half,” said Schilawski. “I think if we’re able to pick up some balls from the other team’s turnovers a little bit closer to goal and press them, keep them on their heels a little bit, we’d get more opportunities.”

New England addressed a huge need when the club signed Danish forward Rajko Lekic earlier this month, and Nicol hopes the 29-year-old striker will regularly finish off those chances inside the box. A lack of service limited Lekic’s effectiveness in his MLS debut against Houston, however, as he managed just one shot from a tight angle.

“We need to make better decisions with the ball,” said Nicol. “We’ve certainly been up in the opposing half enough times. We just haven’t picked the right pass or made the right decision.”

Those issues could be rectified this weekend with Shalrie Joseph and Pat Phelan returning from suspension, Ousmane Dabo and Didier Domi potentially returning from injury and the recently-acquired Benny Feilhaber prepared to make his MLS debut. Particularly for the central midfield trio of Feilhaber, Joseph and Phelan, possession is the name of the game.

“We just have to be better with the ball,” said Joseph. “(We have to) start moving it a little bit in (central) midfield and then get it out wide to create more chances for the guys up top. Once you do that, you know you’re going to score if you start creating more chances.”