FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- There’s no doubt the emotions will run deep when the New England Revolution (1-2-2, 5 points) step onto the pitch at Red Bull Arena on Saturday night to face the New York Red Bulls (2-4-2, 8 points).
Saturday’s match is the Revolution’s first since Monday’s tragic Boston Marathon bombings that killed three and injured more than 170 -- including the father-in-law of goalkeeper Matt Reis.
As much as Revolution head coach Jay Heaps would like nothing more than to treat this as just another game, he knows that there’s more than just three points on his team’s mind.
“We're playing for a pretty strong region,” Heaps acknowledged after Wednesday’s training. “For me, being from this area, I’m very honored to be able to represent that type of courage."
While Monday’s events will surely weigh on their minds, the fact is that the Revolution must hone their focus on the 90 minutes ahead of them against their conference rivals.
New York currently sits in fifth place, and are far from playing the kind of soccer that’s expected of them. Goal artists Thierry Henry and new addition Fabian Espindola haven’t exactly steered the attack in the right direction and, curiously, center back Jamison Olave leads the team in scoring.
Another surprise: the Red Bull defense, which features the typically stalwart Olave and Heath Pearce, has allowed 11 goals, the second most in the league behind Chicago (12). With that in mind, the prime objective for the Revolution has to be scoring against a vulnerable opponent.
Of course, putting that objective into practice is a lot easier said than done for a squad that’s only collected a solitary goal since the start of the season.
“We need to be better on the ball,” Heaps said. “We need to keep the ball better when we have it and play quicker and be a little more clinical when we get the opportunities.”
But don’t get it confused: by opportunities, Heaps isn’t talking about shots on goal, which interestingly, the Revolution haven’t managed to collect in two of their last three games.
“I think at this point last year, we led the league in shots on goal,” Heaps said, alluding to the fact that his club only scored four goals in their first give games in 2012. “But to me, shots on goal don't...they don't say you're going to score a lot of goals.”
Midfielder Clyde Simms agrees that the club has to do better to create those opportunities – opportunities that can break a game open – and believes getting those chances is more than just about holding onto the ball.
“You can always say a team needs to keep the ball,” Simms said. “That's pretty obvious. But the question is: how do you keep the ball? We still need to get better with our movement in the midfield. I think we need to get a better relationship with our two forwards, if they can work together better, then we can (then) hit in balls in behind.”
According to Simms, it’s the strengthening of those relationships – and not just between the midfield and forwards, but between the defenders and midfielders, as well – that’s going to be the key to getting the attack out of what Heaps called “a fluidity rut.”
Attacking success also comes down to poise, as well. Lately, many of the players, including Simms, have alluded to the idea that once they snap their lengthy goal drought – currently stuck at a franchise-high 388 minutes - it may open the floodgates to more offense.
"A good game helps with that, too,” Simms said. “Scoring a few goals and getting that confidence (should) definitely help a little bit, so hopefully we get that on Saturday."