A classic conference rivalry will be re-ignited when the New England Revolution (2-3-1, 7 points) face the Chicago Fire (0-1-5, 5 points) at Toyota Park on Saturday. Kickoff is set for 4pm ET.
Saturday’s clash will be the first of three regular season meetings between the longtime rivals. Last year, the Revolution got the best of the Fire by going 2-1-0 during the season series.
The Revolution enter the match fresh off a 2-0 win over the Houston Dynamo last weekend, while the Fire are coming off a 1-1 draw against the Montreal Impact.
Here are a few things to watch for once the Revolution and Fire formally renew their acquaintances:
-- Does a depleted defending corps spell doom for the Revolution? Given the way the Revolution defense performed during last week’s 2-0 win, it’s easy to forget that the back four did it largely without the aid of two starters. A left hip injury kept Chris Tierney out, while Jose Goncalves was felled by a right quad injury just before halftime. Kevin Alston assumed Tierney’s duties, while Andrew Farrell slid into Goncalves spot as Darrius Barnes took over on the right. It was a seamless transition by any measure, but whether they’ll achieve similar success against the likes of 2013 MVP Mike Magee and hot hand Quincy Amerikwa remains to be seen.
“I expect the guys coming on to do their roles,” Revolution center back A.J. Soares told the media earlier this week. “I'm just one-fourth of the backline unit, and we have Andy Dorman (at holding midfielder) who's defending a lot. But really, it's all about team defending. The reason why we didn't give up a shot on goal is because guys up the field defended well.”
-- More needed from the offense. Far be it for anyone to fault the Revolution for enjoying the fruits of their 2-0 win against Houston last week. Not only did they avenge their 4-0 season-opening loss in Houston, but the attack looked considerably sharper than it has for much of the season. Even so, there’s still cause for concern about the offense. Diego Fagundez, Teal Bunbury and Saer Sene are still in search of their first goals six games into the season, while the Revolution are still averaging less than a goal per game. If the Revolution harbor any ambitions of returning to the postseason, the offense needs to find its scoring form sooner rather than later.
-- Bengtson in line for more minutes? Last week, Revolution forward Jerry Bengtson came off the bench to score his first goal in over a year against the Dynamo. Knowing what a goal can do for a striker’s confidence -- especially after a lengthy scoring slump -- it will be interesting to see if the Honduran gets more minutes this weekend. While Revolution coach Jay Heaps wouldn’t publicly commit to the idea earlier this week, he did say that he was impressed with Bengton’s work ethic in training.
“You get your opportunity in the game by how you train and what you do within the game is what expands your role,” Heaps told the media earlier this week. “For me, that's the most important thing -when the lights are on, how you play. Where we are (right now) is we need goals. Jerry found one, and I think that's an important step forward. "
-- Watch the wings. While the first year of Frank Yallop’s tenure at the helm has seen the Fire employ a new approach to tactics, one that that hasn’t changed is the squad’s effectiveness on the flanks. The pace of Patrick Nyarko still creates nightmares for opposing fullbacks, while the emergence of rookie Harry Shipp has only made the Fire deadlier along the edges. Not only will Barnes and Alston will have to be on guard, but Fagundez and Saer Sene will have to commit themselves on defense, as well.
-- Beware the king of the draws. After settling for a point in five of their first six, the Fire have earned the reputation of a side that can’t get out of its own way. Early goals have been cancelled by late mistakes, and late strikes have made up for early errors. But even though inconsistency has undermined the Fire in the early going, Soares isn’t about to call Saturday’s clash a walk in the park.
“I expect a tough game,” Soares said. “We kind of battled with them last year a lot, jostling for position going up the table. Anytime we play them, it's a tough game.”