Last week, the Revolution (0-2-1, 1 point) collected their first point and shutout of 2014 in a scoreless draw with the Whitecaps. On Saturday, the search continues for another pair of firsts: their first goal, which they hope yields their first win.
But procuring both won’t be easy against the San Jose Earthquakes (0-1-1, 1 point), who enter Saturday’s match against the Revolution unbeaten at venerable Buck Shaw Stadium in their last 21 games across all competitions going back to March 2013.
Saturday’s clash will be the lone meeting between the MLS originals during the regular season. Kickoff is set for 10:30 p.m. ET.
Here’s what to watch for in a clash between two sides vying for win No. 1 of 2014:
Beware the set piece Jay Heaps was generally pleased with his club’s performance against the Whitecaps, but that didn’t stop him from calling out his players’ approach to attacking set pieces. While Heaps undoubtedly wants to see more opportunities arise from dead-ball situations, he’ll have to ensure that the Revolution don’t turn a blind eye to defending them this week. Four of the five goals the Quakes have scored came from set pieces, and with Chris Wondolowski, Steven Lenhart and Victor Bernardez lurking, the Revolution have to be smart and strong inside of their defending third.
“You have to try and limit (set pieces),” said Revolution center back A.J. Soares. “Obviously, don’t foul them in their attacking third, and getting good pressure to the ball. If we can alter their service to their front four guys, then it makes the back line’s job easier.”
Staying compact From the run of play, San Jose typically creates its chances by playing centrally to Wondolowski and Lenhart -- and it’s no secret why. The dynamic duo has collected 52 goals over the past two seasons, giving opposing center backs plenty of sleepless nights. To thwart them, the Revolution must stay compact and plug the passing lanes. They have to smother and overwhelm when San Jose presses forward in the final third. After all, if the Quakes have shown anything in recent years, it’s that the tiniest glint of daylight is all they need to put the ball in the back of the net.
The mental game If there’s one team that no opponent can fall asleep on, it’s none other than San Jose. The so-called Goonies have all but trademarked the comeback in MLS, with their season-opening 3-3 draw to Real Salt Lake serving as the latest reminder of that. With a host of opportunistic players at their disposal, the Revolution cannot allow their mental sharpness to wane at any point during Saturday’s match.
“With the amount of late goals that they’ve scored, especially at home, I think the main thing is talking (to each other),” said Revolution midfielder Andy Dorman. “As a team, that kind of keeps you switched on, especially towards the end of the game when the pressure’s on. So, I think that’s the big thing -- the communication between everyone.”
Converting opportunities It may sound like a song stuck on repeat, but the Revolution have to figure out a way to cash in on their chances inside the final third. Last week, they fired away 17 times, but only three went on frame. And of those three, only one -- Dorman’s fifth-minute header -- truly had a chance of reaching the back of the net. Granted, every offense has kinks it needs to work out during the early part of the season, and the Revolution are no different. But with the fourth game of the season on tap, the excuses are starting to wear thin for a side that has the talent to score by the bushels.
Wondo watch Many have tried, and nearly as many have failed when it comes to keeping Chris Wondolowski, the poacher extraordinaire, off the board. The former supplemental pick turned Golden Boot winner has given countless defenses fits over the years. Why? Because of the maddening way in which he finds the back of the net. Wondolowski does not score majestic goals; rather, he unassumingly creeps behind a back line and converts on any ball that happens to fall his way. Garbage goals? Perhaps. But fortunately for San Jose, style points aren’t factored into the equation.
“He peels off in a lot of good spots, and when he gets open, he finishes,” Soares said. “So you obviously try not to let him get open. You try to prevent the problem before he gets the ball or anything like that, because if he gets space in the box, it’s a goal, period.”