In front of their home crowd for the final time in 2011, the Revolution (5-15-12, 27 pts.) will be poised to put an end to their four-game slide when they host the third-place Columbus Crew (12-12-8, 44 pts.) on Saturday night.
Although Columbus currently holds the third playoff seed in the Eastern Conference with two games to go, the last-place Revolution would take tremendous pleasure in dealing the vulnerable Crew -- which is a mere three points inside the postseason picture -- a late-season sucker punch.
To deliver that blow, New England will need to solve the number one problem that’s plagued them for the past month -- mistakes. During their current four-game slide, they’ve been punished for their carelessness, conceding 10 goals and sinking to the bottom of the league. In their latest comedy of errors, the team allowed Golden Boot contender Chris Wondolowski -- who scored the first of his two goals from a 70-yard assist from backup goalkeeper David Bingham -- to bookend the scoring in last weekend’s 2-1 loss to San Jose. After the game, skipper Shalrie Joseph vented his frustrations and stated that the root of the team’s problems was “immaturity.”
Despite their current playoff standing, the Crew has also suffered from its own immaturity issues as well. With a number of younger players embedded in their starting XI, Columbus has suffered some serious growing pains (11 scoreless efforts) and gut-wrenching defeats to Seattle (6-2), Toronto (4-2), and San Jose (3-0) this season. Prior to last weekend’s bye, Columbus conquered a six-game late-summer skid (0-5-1) to beat fellow playoff contender D.C. 2-1 at Crew Stadium and, more importantly, kept their postseason hopes alive. But to keep those hopes from fading, the young Crew undoubtedly needs to get three points on Saturday.
There’s no question that the Crew present the Revolution with a formidable challenge. But the local XI aren’t without motivation, especially in the wake of last weekend’s tough luck loss. Aside from cutting down on the mistakes, here’s what else New England needs to focus on to foil the Crew’s postseason plans.
1. Take advantage of opportunities. Although they haven’t scored as many goals as they’d like to, the Revolution have been afforded their fair share of attacking opportunities. But, they’ll need to start converting more of those chances to dismantle the Crew. Striker Milton Caraglio will need to start answering the bell, while Diego Fagundez has to continue his eye-popping play in order for the attack to put some through against a suspect Columbus defense.
2. Talk to each other. Without the experienced Matt Reis between the sticks, the defense will be missing their most vocal leader in the rear for the second straight week. To make up for it, the defense will have to rely on word of mouth -- and each other -- to deal with the likes of Andres Mendoza (11 goals, 2 assists) and Robbie Rogers (2 goals, 7 assists). In short, there’s no room for error, and certainly no excuse at this juncture for the Revolution defenders to be shy.
3. Teamwork. It may sound terribly cliché, but for the injury-ravaged Revolution to combat a speedy and deceptive team like the Crew, it’ll take a cohesive and well-organized effort from every player on the field. No longer can they rely on Shalrie Joseph to do of all the dirty work. Each player has to do his part -- and then some -- in order to thwart the Crew’s methodical attacking cast. Whether it’s tracking back, helping out a vulnerable teammate, or pushing forward to pressure the guests, every player is going to have to pitch in to get the win.
It would be silly to think that a win in their home finale would cure all that ails the Revolution. This is Foxboro, not Fantasyland. But it would certainly give them something they’ve been grasping for all season, confidence. It may be too late to save their season, but some much-needed poise may go a long way toward lifting themselves out of last place before next week’s season finale.
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.