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Revs could play spoiler against Red Bulls

Playing their third match in eight days, the slumping Revs (4-11-10, 22 points) hope they can finally find three points against the underachieving New York Red Bulls (6-6-13, 31 points) on Saturday night at Gillette Stadium.

The 7:30 game will be broadcast on Comcast SportsNet New England. A radio feed will be available locally on The Sports Hub 98.5.

Saturday night’s match will pit the longtime I-95 rivals for the second and final time this season. On June 10, the Red Bulls took a 2-1 win over the Revs at Red Bull Arena, thanks to a New England own goal and a magnificent Thierry Henry tally.

But with the final third of the regular-season schedule underway, the eighth-place Revs will be happy to play the part of the spoiler against the teetering Red Bulls, which occupy the 10th and final playoff slot at the moment. Of course, a victory over their Eastern Conference arch nemesis would certainly help improve New England’s morale, which has faltered of late thanks to a four-game winless streak.

Speaking of the Revs' morale, Wednesday’s 1-1 draw did little to improve it. Despite a number of defensive breaches, it appeared the Revs, who led 1-0 going into the 90th minute, were going to withstand Houston’s attack and get the win. That was until Bobby Boswell knotted it by tapping in a rebound to give the Dynamo the road draw, allowing them to inch their way up the Eastern Conference standings. Adding salt to the Revs’ wound was Matt Reis’ red card after the final whistle, which will keep the veteran keeper from seeing the pitch for Saturday night’s game.

Interestingly, Houston’s last-gasp draw dropped New York into the fifth position in the table. One thing that certainly hasn’t helped the talent-laden club of late is the rash of sub-par performances (0-3-3 in their last six league games), all of which have caused New York -- the pre-season MLS Cup favorite -- to sputter into the middle of the table. Last week, they fell behind 2-1 against cellar-dwelling Chicago until a 63rd-minute goal by Joel Lindpere rescued them from total humiliation. Given the stratospheric expectations placed upon of Hans Backe’s boys, the 2011 season can only be viewed with malaise thus far.

With two teams playing less-than-stellar soccer at the moment, a win on Saturday night could provide a huge boost to either club's spirits.

Here are three things the Revs should focus on Saturday:

1. Tighten up in the rear. For lengthy stretches this season, the Revs have employed the “bend but don’t break” mode of defense -- but with mixed results. On Wednesday, it nearly worked. But more often than not this season, the Revs have succumbed to the attacking pressure and conceded goals late as a result. With backup keeper Bobby Shuttleworth in net, the Revs’ back four will need assistance from their central midfielders to avoid falling victim to another second-half disappointment.

2. Keep the ball. Another problem that plagued the Revs against the Dynamo was the number of turnovers they committed in the midfield. But, unlike the offensively-challenged Dynamo, the Red Bulls, with a league-high 39 goals scored this season, have no problem punishing opponents for their mistakes. In light of this, there’s just no way the Revs can survive if they cough up the ball as frequently as they did against the Dynamo.

3. Score, and then score again. It doesn’t matter whether the Revs get a lead early, late, or in between, the simple fact is that the club has failed to convert the majority of its one-goal leads into wins. Against a Red Bulls club that has the firepower to score at will, the Revs cannot realistically believe they can escape Saturday night’s showdown with a 1-0 scoreline. They'll need to put together a multi-goal effort against the Red Bulls.

The Revs certainly have their work cut out for them against a team as stacked as the Red Bulls. But, with the playoffs all but out of reach for the Revs, the pressure is on New York, which may be ripe for an upset. Either way, Saturday night’s game will be interesting to watch, if only to see how the familiar foes stack up against each other.