Revs host Fire in Eastern Conference showdown

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Just three days after playing to a scoreless draw with Toronto FC, the New England Revolution concludes a brief two-game home-stand on Saturday, June 18, when the Eastern Conference rival Chicago Fire visits Gillette Stadium.

Kickoff between the Revs (3-7-5, 14 pts.) and Fire (2-4-8, 14 pts.) is set for 7:30 p.m. with Comcast SportsNet New England televising the match live in high definition and 98.5 The Sports Hub handling the radio call.

Current Form: Revs and Fire tied for seventh place in crowded Eastern Conference

New England and Chicago enter this weekend’s action locked in a tie for seventh place in the Eastern Conference, just four points ahead of last-place Sporting Kansas City (2-6-4, 10 pts.). However, both sides are just four points back of the Houston Dynamo (4-5-6, 18 pts.) and Columbus Crew (4-4-6, 18 pts.), which are tied for third place.

Wednesday’s 0-0 draw with Toronto FC snapped the Revolution’s four-game losing streak but extended the club’s winless run to five games (0-4-1). As has been the case in recent weeks, the Revs were solid defensively and created chances in the attacking third, but struggled to discover the finishing touch as they were shut out for the fifth time in their last eight games.

“We’re not blind, we know we have to score goals,” said head coach Steve Nicol. “The last three games, we’ve made chances. We just need to take that extra step and [finish] them. If we do that, then we’ll get the three points.”

Chicago put an end to an 11-game winless run with a dramatic 1-0 win over the Columbus Crew last weekend at Crew Stadium, with Colombian forward Cristian Nazarit scoring the only goal of the game in second-half stoppage time. Goalkeeper Sean Johnson secured his third straight clean sheet – following consecutive scoreless draws – and extended the Fire’s shutout streak to 286 minutes in the process.

Past Meetings: Chicago has held distinct upper-hand over New England in recent seasons

It’s been more than four years since the Revolution defeated the Fire in regular-season action as the Chicago-based club has six wins and two draws in the last eight league meetings dating back to 2007. In four games at Gillette Stadium during that span, the Fire is 3-0-1 and has outscored the Revolution 6-1.

The postseason hasn’t been any kinder to the Revs in recent years, as they were eliminated by the Fire in the Eastern Conference Semifinals in both 2008 and 2009.

“It’s always a good matchup,” said goalkeeper Matt Reis, who has posted five career shutouts against Chicago. “We’ve played them in a lot of big games. It’s always fun to play Eastern Conference foes and there’s a lot riding on the game for both of us.”

Injury Report: Feilhaber expected to make the bench for New England; Cochrane out

After missing the past three games with a right ankle sprain, midfielder Benny Feilhaber will be available for selection on Saturday night for the first time since suffering the injury on May 28 against the LA Galaxy. Feilhaber only returned to the training field earlier this week, so the 26-year-old is expected to start the game as one of seven available substitutes as he continues to regain his sharpness and fitness.

“He’s not had any real training as far as joining in with the players,” said Nicol. “He’s had [Thursday and Friday], so that’s not a whole lot to start a game. He’ll be on the bench.”

Meanwhile, Nicol confirmed that central defender Ryan Cochrane (L hamstring strain) will be replaced in the lineup by Franco Coria after Cochrane exited Wednesday’s draw with Toronto in the 69th minute. Midfielder Zak Boggs – who has started the last six games on the right wing – was listed as doubtful on Friday’s injury report with a sprained right MCL, potentially opening the door for Sainey Nyassi to take his place.

Chicago will be without midfielder Mike Banner (L Achilles tendonitis) and defender Steven Kinney (R Achilles repair), while midfielder Marko Maric (L deltoid ligament sprain) is doubtful. The Fire parted ways with forward Gaston Puerari earlier this week, selling the Uruguayan to Mexico’s Club Atlas.

Key Player: Revolution central defender Franco Coria

Coria spent much of preseason and the start of the regular season playing alongside rookie A.J. Soares in central defense, but a pair of injuries opened the door for Cochrane to step on the field and the veteran never relinquished his spot. With Cochrane now nursing a left hamstring strain, Coria will have his chance to start once again on Saturday night against the Fire.

“Franco’s unlucky he hasn’t played because Ryan stepped in when he got injured and played well, so he stayed in,” said Nicol. “So we’ve got three real good center backs fighting for two spots.”

Final Thoughts: Positive attitude vital as Revs look to snap skid

Recent weeks have seen the Revs encouraged by their performances but frustrated by their results as they’ve struggled to convert scoring chances into goals. According to central midfielder Pat Phelan, it’s important the players remain mentally tough as they battle through this rough patch.

“Our mentality has to be strong,” Phelan said. “We’re creating chances, we’re just not putting the ball in the net. We just need to continue to do that. It’ll come for us. We just need to keep having that belief and keep playing some good, attacking soccer.

“It’s frustrating when you’re creating and you’re not putting the ball in the net,” he continued. “I think if one comes, the floodgates are going to open and we’ll get that monkey off our back. Hopefully it comes sooner rather than later.”