W2W4: Revolution-Kickers in Open Cup

The World Cup may have halted MLS action until the end of June, but the New England Revolution will be back on the pitch on Wednesday at 7 p.m. for a fourth-round U.S. Open Cup clash against the Richmond Kickers (USL-PRO).

Wednesday’s match will mark New England’s first foray into the 2014 tournament, which introduces MLS competition at the fourth-round stage this year. The Kickers reached its fourth-round date with the Revolution after beating New York Greek American Atlas SC (USASA) 2-1 in a third-round contest on May 28.

Here’s what to watch for during Wednesday’s Open Cup game, which will be streamed live on revolutionsoccer.net.

What kind of squad will Jay Heaps field? In the past two tournaments, the Revolution coach has fielded a mix of starters, reserves and rookies -- but with mixed results. In 2012, the club was immediately knocked out of Open Cup play after the Harrisburg City Islanders outlasted them on penalties. Last year, Heaps went with the same approach, and saw greater success before eventual champion D.C. knocked them out of the quarterfinals. While Heaps wouldn’t give many details about who might be on field come Wednesday, it appears that we’ll once again see a variety of players out on the pitch for the Revolution.

“It’s going to be a pretty even blend across,” Heaps said. “But we want to put out the best lineup we can while being mindful of players who need a little bit of rest and don’t need the extra travel.”

Planning for an unfamiliar opponent. Unlike the usual suspects the Revolution regularly see every season, the Kickers present an interesting challenge for Heaps’ side. With the Kickers operating outside of MLS auspices, the file folder on the USL-PRO side isn’t exactly the thickest. Nevertheless, Heaps told the media on Monday that he’s watched “a combination of six games” featuring the Kickers, and has familiarized himself with the formations they’ve used this season. Rest assured, if the Revolution come up short against the Kickers, it won’t be for lack of preparation.

Richmond won’t be overlooked. On paper, the Revolution should win Wednesday’s match handily. Not only do they sit two levels above the Kickers on the American soccer pyramid, but they enter the game rested and refreshed. Even so, the coaches and players know better than to rest on their laurels against a lower-division opponent -- especially after three MLS clubs were knocked out of the tournament last weekend.

“It’s tough because you know they put everything into these games,” Revolution keeper Brad Knighton said. “It’s a cup final for them every single time they go out (for Open Cup play), and we’re juggling a schedule between MLS and the Open Cup, this is pretty much all they have to play for. They’re looking to get on the map and beat an MLS side.”

The heat will be on -- both figuratively and literally. There’s no doubt the Revolution will be aiming to avoid the fates suffered by the Red Bulls, Chivas USA and Real Salt Lake on Wednesday. All three sides were handed humbling defeats by lower-division sides, a sure sign that no MLS team can afford to take the competition lightly. Meanwhile, the Kickers won’t be the only force the Revolution will be dealing with on Wednesday. The weather forecast for game day has temperatures hovering near 100 degrees, with a heat index near 110.

Will Kelyn Rowe continue his remarkable form in Open Cup play? The third-year midfielder has been nothing short of a dynamo when the tournament rolls around. In four career Open Cup matches, Rowe has scored five goals and added an assist, including a pair of two-goal games against Rochester and New York in last year’s tournament. While he’s proven himself a potent weapon in MLS, Rowe has been beset by injuries this year, allowing Daigo Kobayashi to take over in the central midfield. With that scenario in place, expect Rowe to try to use Wednesday’s game as a springboard for more minutes once league play resumes on June 28.

“You do approach it a little differently,” Rowe said regarding Open Cup action. “You’re willing to take risks because it’s a different kind of tournament. For me, it’s just a way to build confidence, and once you take that first shot, and then that second shot, and if one of them goes in, you’re going to take a third and fourth one. So for me, in the Open Cup, they just seem to go in, so I just keep taking those shots.”