FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Starting the regular season on the road hasn’t been easy for rookie head coach Jay Heaps and his rebuilt Revolution roster. And the degree of difficulty won’t drop on Saturday.
With the Portland Timbers in town for the Revolution’s home opener, the general consensus is that the key to Heaps getting his first victory is to cancel out Timbers’ Designated Player Kris Boyd.
If it only it were that easy.
Even if the hosts find a way to eliminate the threat that the Scottish striker poses, they still have to attend to keeping Portland’s enterprising playmakers away from the scoresheet.
“Portland is coming together as a really good group,” Heaps said. “They’ve put together a pretty traditional 4-4-2 and if you make a mistake, they’re going to make you pay for it.”
Through its first two games, the Timbers have taken a 3-1 victory at home against one of league’s best defenses last year -- Philadelphia -- and followed it up with an impressive 1-1 draw at Dallas.
But the way in which they’ve taken points from both games is intriguing. In both matches, the Timbers played uninspiring soccer in the first half of each match. But in the second half, the Timbers turn it up, and have scored all four of their goals in the second frame this season.
“It’s important that we get that first goal,” Revolution skipper Shalrie Joseph said. “That should allow us to relax and play truer to our own style on Saturday.”
With that in mind, Heaps knows that his team will have to put itself in the driver’s seat right after the opening whistle and make the first half theirs.
“We need to control the tempo,” said Heaps. “And when we control the tempo, and we extend the field and we put pressure on them, then we’ll have a much better shot of winning.”
Another area Heaps knows his team will have to improve upon is avoiding the temptation of throwing the attack toward the final third without having the necessary support in the event of a turnover.
“You can’t get extended,” Heaps said. “They’re looking to go at guys one on one, so we can’t make it easy for them. We can’t overcommit. We have to make sure that when we pressure, we do it as a group and make sure there’s a little cover behind.”
Ensuring that their solid in transition will be crucial, especially with Khalif Alhassan and Eric Alexander on the wings and Rodney Wallace in the rear. All three have the speed and nose for the ball to put an overambitious team into a precarious situation.
“They move the ball well,” Joseph said. “They create a lot of chances and they’ve got some speedy guys on both sides and in the middle. It’s going to be a handful dealing with them.”
Even so, one thing Heaps won’t have to worry about his getting his squad fired up for Saturday’s match. With the home crowd behind them, Heaps knows that winning the home opener will be crucial in driving home the point that home games should equal victories.
“This date has been circled on our scheduled,” Heaps said. “Games at home are vital and having a winning record at home is essential.”
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.