FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – One of Major League Soccer’s most intense rivalries will be renewed this weekend when the New England Revolution travels to the Windy City for an Eastern Conference clash with the Chicago Fire on Sunday, Sept. 25.
Kickoff from Toyota Park between the Revs (5-12-12, 27 pts.) and Fire (5-8-15, 30 pts.) is set for 4 p.m. ET and the game will be televised live in high definition on Comcast SportsNet New England, while the radio call will be available on 98.5 The Sports Hub’s HD2 station.
Current Form: Both sides looking to stay in contention for the 2011 MLS Cup Playoffs
Although no team in the league has officially been eliminated from postseason contention – and only the LA Galaxy has clinched a playoff spot – both the Revs and Fire are now clinging to slender postseason hopes as clubs enter the final month of the regular season.
A scenario does exist in which the Revolution could see its playoff hopes formally dashed this weekend after the club suffered a 3-0 loss to the Portland Timbers last Friday night at JELD-WEN Field. Another loss to the Fire on Sunday afternoon combined with a Timbers win over the New York Red Bulls, a Philadelphia Union win or draw against Sporting Kansas City and a Houston Dynamo win or draw against FC Dallas would officially eliminate the Revs from postseason contention for the second straight season.
“We just have to put it all on the field and make a run for it,” said defender Darrius Barnes. “Our chances are slim right now, but we have to take it in stride, have some pride and go out there and try to get results.”
Hindered by a record number of draws (15), Chicago managed just two wins in its first 24 games this season, but the resurgent Fire has posted three wins in its last four league matches and has also ridden its recent run of form into the U.S. Open Cup Final, to be played on Oct. 4 against Seattle Sounders FC.
Speedy Ghanaian Dominic Oduro has been the offensive catalyst for Chicago, scoring 10 goals to sit just two back of league leaders Thierry Henry and Landon Donovan. Still, the Fire finds itself seven points back of the final playoff spot with six games remaining.
Past Meetings: Revs winless in last nine regular-season meetings with Fire
Rajko Lekic scored three minutes after the halftime break to cancel out Oduro’s 32nd-minute opener as the Revs and Fire played to a 1-1 draw on June 18 at Gillette Stadium. The result kept New England winless in regular-season meetings with Chicago since 2007, as the Revs are 0-6-3 in their last nine league matches against the Fire. Additionally, the Revs were eliminated by the Fire in their last two postseason appearances in 2008 and 2009.
It’s unsurprising, then, that Toyota Park hasn’t been the friendliest of destinations for the Revolution since the facility opened midway through the 2006 season. The Revs are 1-4-2 in regular-season matches played in Bridgeview, while they’re 0-3-0 in the playoffs and 1-0-0 in SuperLiga.
Injury Report: Lekic, Nyassi, Soares out for New England; Gibbs suspended for Chicago
Both Lekic (L ankle sprain) and rookie center back A.J. Soares (L adductor strain) were forced off the field with injuries last weekend in Portland and on Friday afternoon it was confirmed that those knocks will sideline both players for Sunday’s visit to Chicago. Lekic is expected to miss up to four weeks, while Soares’ status was downgraded after he was originally listed as questionable earlier in the week.
Also missing this weekend will be midfielder Sainey Nyassi, who suffered a right hamstring strain during Friday morning’s training session as he worked his way back from a right MCL sprain. Meanwhile, winger Monsef Zerka (L quad strain) appears unlikely to feature against the Fire after being downgraded to doubtful on Friday.
Chicago is currently one of the league’s healthier teams with only midfielder Gabriel Ferrari (L knee ACL reconstruction) and defender Steven Kinney (lower abdominal strain) out for this weekend’s match. Former Revolution defender Cory Gibbs (R ankle contusion) is the only other player listed on the Fire’s most recent injury report, although Gibbs’ status won’t matter on Sunday as he’ll serve a one-game suspension after being red carded in last weekend’s 3-2 win over Chivas USA.
Key Player: Revolution forward Milton Caraglio
With forward partner Lekic sidelined for the foreseeable future, much of the attacking responsibility in New England will fall to Argentine striker Milton Caraglio beginning on Sunday at Toyota Park. Whether joined up top by another forward in a 4-4-2 formation – Kheli Dube, Kenny Mansally and Zack Schilawski present the likeliest options – or playing alone in a 4-5-1 setup, Caraglio will need to find the form which saw him bag a pair of goals in a 2-2 draw with the New York Red Bulls on Aug. 20.
Final Thoughts: Nicol wants Revs to correct defensive mistakes in Chicago
“The mistakes we made in Portland were pretty clear, certainly from our point of view,” said head coach Steve Nicol, referencing the defensive lapses which allowed the Timbers to take an early 2-0 lead. “We’re going to be working on it all week so that we don’t do it again on Sunday.
“Going forward we’ve looked okay, but defensively we haven’t been as good as we could be,” he specified. “So we’ll be working on that all week to make sure we don’t make the same mistakes as we did at Portland.”