It’s safe to say that the Revolution and Union already know each other quite well ahead of Tuesday’s U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal at PPL Park, which will kick off at 7 p.m.
The conference foes wrapped up their three-game regular-season series well before the halfway point of the MLS season, with the Union getting the better of the Revolution in a 3-1 win on June 28. The win also gave the Union the upper hand in the series, going 2-1-0 against the Revolution in 2014.
But the stakes will certainly be much different on Tuesday. With each side only three wins away from lifting the Dewar Challenge Trophy, here’s what to watch for when the Revolution and Union meet for the right to advance to the Open Cup semifinals.
More adjustments in store for Union? The last time the Revolution and Union met, the latter tweaked its lineup just enough to throw the former for a loop. With Maurice Edu positioned at center back, Amobi Okugo at holding midfielder and Cristian Maidana as the attacking midfielder, the Revolution might as well have been playing an entirely different opponent than the one they faced twice earlier this season. The changes allowed the Union to collect a rare road victory and served as a cautionary tale for the Revolution with Tuesday’s tilt on tap.
“I don’t see them changing their lineup too much,” Revolution coach Jay Heaps told the media on Monday. “I think maybe three or four players here or there, but in terms of what they’re doing, maybe a formation change. But we talked about it: The players are the same, whether they’re taking to their starting positions or not, that’s different.”
How many changes will Heaps make to his lineup? Tuesday’s game comes only four days after a long flight back from Utah and is the second of seven -- yes, seven -- contests the Revolution will play during the month of July. In other words, Heaps will have some serious tightrope walking to do when it comes to resting some while shaking the rust off others. With Saturday’s league game against Chicago to follow, expect Heaps to field a strong mix of starters with only three more tournament wins separating the Revolution from a second Open Cup championship.
A complete performance from start to finish ... and top to bottom. On paper, it sounds so simple: a complete performance will often yield a team three points. But incorporating that plan onto the pitch has been a tall task for the Revolution during league play over their last four games. When the defense steps up, the offense disappears, and vice versa. A strong first half gives way to a weak second stanza. A lethargic start forces a stronger finish. And so on. To get the best of the Union, the Revolution have to find the consistency that has eluded them in league action since late May.
“We’re hoping that guys like Brad Knighton, guys like Jose (Goncalves) and A.J. (Soares) and whoever’s playing in the backline (will) help us out a little bit and give us that little bit of sturdiness," Revolution midfielder Kelyn Rowe told reporters Monday. “And obviously the guys up front have to perform as well, so it’s a whole team thing.”
Can Rowe keep sizzling on Open Cup play? Speaking of performing, no one on the Revolution roster is hotter in Open Cup action than Rowe, who has collected seven goals in his last six tournament matches. His last strike proved to be the game-winner in last month’s 2-1 fifth-round win over Rochester. With the third-year midfielder in the middle of an impressive scoring run, you can bet that the offense will revolve around opening room for Rowe and getting him as many chances as possible. After all, why change what’s worked so well?
Payback on the Revolution’s mind. If there’s one thing that won’t be in short supply for the local XI when they step onto the pitch at PPL Park, it’s motivation. Less than two weeks ago, the Union handed the Revolution a humbling home loss. What’s worse, the 3-1 defeat came right after a three-week break in league action due to the World Cup, which should have afforded the hosts plenty of time to prepare and ready themselves for the slumping Union. While the focus will remain on the present, rest assured that the not-so-distant past has crossed the minds of some with Tuesday’s rematch on tap.
“I think the fact that they did come in and beat us here at home after the break was a big eye-opener for us,” Rowe said. “I think that, no matter what team they put out there, we want to get a result, and obviously a positive one to get that payback from when they were here.”