After a three-week break from league action due to the World Cup, the New England Revolution return to the pitch with points at stake on Saturday when they host the Philadelphia Union. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.
The Revolution's last league match came on June 8 in a 2-0 loss to the New York Red Bulls, while the Union secured a 3-3 draw with the Vancouver Whitecaps on June 7.
Weeks have passed since their last MLS matches, but both sides remained busy during the break with U.S. Open Cup action. In fact, both earned fourth- and fifth-round wins over the course of the past two weeks. As a result of their fifth-round wins, the Revolution and Union will actually meet in the quarterfinals on July 8 at PPL Park.
But before that match takes place, let's take a look at what to watch for in Saturday's league clash:
• Shaking off the rust. In a sense, Open Cup play couldn't have started for the Revolution at a better time. The tournament allowed a number of regulars, such as Jose Goncalves, Lee Nguyen and Patrick Mullins, the opportunity to stay sharp, while many reserves, including Stephen McCarthy, Brad Knighton and Scott Caldwell, accrued valuable playing time. But coach Jay Heaps paid careful attention to rest the likes of Andrew Farrell, Andy Dorman, AJ Soares and Bobby Shuttleworth. With three weeks between games, it'll be interesting to see whether these key contributors will be recharged and ready to go, or whether rust will be evident.
"There are guys that I feel that needed a little bit of a rest, and [the break] came at a good time," Heaps told revolutionsoccer.net on Thursday. "The key for them isn't the eagerness -- it's the sharpness, I think they're all ready to go and we have to get them sharp."
• Will Open Cup success help turn things around for the Revolution in league play? It's easy to forget the Revolution entered the World Cup break on a two-game losing streak given their recent pair of wins in Open Cup play. But whether those victories -- both of which came against lower-division sides -- will breed success in MLS is uncertain. The Revolution found no problem scoring goals, which eluded them in their past two losses, so that has to be a positive sign. Then again, their second-half form in both Open Cup contests was shaky, to say the least. It'll be interesting to see if the Revolution can put it together not only on both ends of the pitch, but on each side of halftime.
• New coach presents new challenge? While the Revolution were focused on resting bodies and keeping others sharp, the Union were dealing with an entirely different task during the World Cup break. Shortly after the Union's 3-3 draw to Vancouver, coach John Hackworth was dismissed due to the team's largely underwhelming performance during the opening months of the season. With assistant coach Jim Curtin taking over on an interim basis, the Revolution are expecting the Union to have an extra spring in their step come Saturday.
"I would imagine they're going to have sort of a fresh burst of energy," Soares told revolutionsoccer.net. "You have a new voice talking to them -- maybe some new concepts. They'll probably come out pretty fired up wanting to sort of atone for the first half of the season. But they're a good squad -- they beat us already this year [1-0 on March 15] and they always play us tough."
• Will Saer Sene's performance against Rochester earn him a cameo on Saturday? The flamboyant forward certainly made the most of a rare opportunity on Wednesday. After being banished from the starting XI in April, the prevailing thought was that Sene's time in Foxborough could be drawing to a close. Or not. The French forward scored inside of 11 minutes on Wednesday, but more importantly, he was particularly active in the first half before he predictably tired in the second half due to a lack of fitness. On the whole, it wasn't his strongest game, by any stretch. But he may have shown enough glimpses to warrant a call off the bench on Wednesday if the offense is in need of a spark late in the game.
• Getting the jump on a busy month of action. While the month of July often means barbeques and pool parties for many New Englanders, the Revolution won't get much time to enjoy the festivities between now and August 1. Not only do the Revolution have eight games lined up between now and July 30, but they'll be tasked with three road tilts against Western Conference opponents. In other words, Saturday is a must-win for the Revolution, who won't get the benefit of another break until mid-August.
"We want to start the second half of the season with a win, obviously, and playing at home, we're confident we can win," Soares said. "We want to go out there and have a good performance, get three points, and roll through July with that momentum."