After securing a 2-0 victory over FC Dallas last weekend, the Revolution (5-11-12, 27 pts.) will look to put together back-to-back wins for the first time this season when they head west to face the expansion Portland Timbers (9-12-6, 33 pts.) for a Friday night match at JELD-Wen Field.
Friday night’s match will be the first time the Revs have ever played in Portland. But the Revs are not exactly strangers to the Timbers. Back on April 4th, the then-winless Timbers forced a then-unbeaten New England to settle for a 1-1 draw at Gillette Stadium.
Now, some five months after their inaugural meeting, the rematch will take on an entirely different feel, as playoff hopes hinge on the result.
For the Revs, Friday night is an opportunity to spoil another team’s autumn aspirations. Last week, they foiled FC Dallas by scoring early, then late, and with Matt Reis making eight saves, the Revs finally converted a lead into a victory for the first time since mid-July. And although their possession rate (41.3%) signaled that there’s still considerable room for improvement, the Revs’ ability to protect a lead may have gotten that cumbersome “can’t win” monkey off their back.
Meanwhile, the Timbers enter the match with nothing less than a win on their minds, especially at JELD-Wen Field, where they enjoy an 8-4-2 record. In their 0-0 draw to Philadelphia last weekend, Portland’s backline held up their end of the bargain, but the attack was a different story. By putting only one shot on goal, the Timbers anemic offense cost them an opportunity to sneak into the postseason picture, as they currently sit one point behind D.C. for the tenth and final playoff spot.
Typically, facing the Timbers at raucous JELD-Wen Field is no easy task for any MLS team. But facing the Timbers at home with their playoff lives at stake, the decibel level will undoubtedly be turned clockwise. With that mind, here’s what the Revs need to do to thwart the Timbers in front of their home crowd:
Attack, and then attack some more. Holding a one-goal lead as the hour approached against Dallas, the Revs refused to fall into a defensive shell. Whether this was a byproduct of injuries (defensive midfielders Pat Phelan and Stephen McCarthy were both banged up and unavailable for substitute duty) or a change in philosophy, the Revs were rewarded for their efforts when Rajko Lekic scored late and essentially ended any hopes for a Dallas comeback. Should they score the opening goal, the Revs’ best chance to keep the lead is to continue attacking.
Substitute wisely. Speaking of substitutes, Steve Nicol was praised by his players for his late-game switches after last weekend’s 2-0 win. This weekend, the gaffer would be wise to use attack-minded substitutions again, especially if they’re holding the lead. The saying that the best defense is a good offense rings particularly true for the Revolution defenders, a unit that plays noticeably better when the players in front of them are lively from start to finish.
Take the crowd out of it. This goes hand in hand with the above. Two weeks ago, the Revs went into PPL Park and promptly scored four goals in the first half and, in doing so, temporarily took the boisterous Union supporters out of the game. But after they went into a defensive shell and Philadelphia began to find more and more shots, the Revs essentially encouraged the crowd to get back in the game. And with that, the Union drew energy from their crowd, and leveled the game in stoppage time to cap a wild comeback. With that in mind, the Revs have to be careful not to allow the same scene to transpire at a similarly-sonorous JELD-Wen Field.
Back in April, few would have predicted that the Timbers would be the ones fighting for a playoff spot in this game rather than the Revs. But, that hardly means a thing to the Revs, who have adopted the “one game at a time” approach for the remainder of the regular season. Without the distraction of playoff implications, the Revs may pose a formidable threat to Portland’s postseason push.
Brian O'Connell is covering the Revolution for ESPNBoston.com. He is the co-founder of New England Soccer Today (www.nesoccertoday.com), which covers professional soccer within New England. He can be reached at BOConnell21@aol.com.