Two teams hoping to halt their early-summer struggles will meet on Saturday when the New England Revolution (7-7-2, 23 points) and Chicago Fire (2-4-10, 16 points) take to the pitch at Gillette Stadium. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.
The Revolution enter the match losers of their last four in league action, with a 2-1 loss at Salt Lake on July 4 marking their most recent setback. Making matters worse, they were eliminated from the U.S. Open Cup following a 2-0 quarterfinal defeat to the Union on Tuesday.
If misery loves company, then the Revolution may have found its match in the Fire, who’ve also stumbled through a number of setbacks in recent weeks. Winless in their last six (0-2-4), the Fire currently sit in ninth place, with a 3-1 Open Cup win over the Atlanta Silverbacks serving as a rare glimmer of light for Frank Yallop’s side this season.
Here’s what to watch for on Saturday with the Revolution and Fire each hoping to put their recent struggles behind them:
• No time to panic. It’s safe to say that not much has gone the Revolution’s way during their four-game losing streak. Both the offense and defense have struggled, while questions have popped up at goalkeeper with Brad Knighton getting a surprise start two weeks ago vs. Philadelphia. However, every MLS club encounters setbacks at some point in the season, and veteran Chris Tierney believes that overcoming the struggles boils down to a simple concept: resilience.
“These are the times where you just have to fight through it,” Tierney told the media on Thursday. “We’re in the dog days of summer, we have six to seven games this month alone, so it’s going to be a tough stretch. We have to dig in and defend well, make sure our work rate is where it needs to be, and we know that if we take care of those things, then the results will start coming our way.”
• Overcoming the absence of Lee Nguyen? Revolution supporters were treated to an unwelcome shock on Friday morning when the league announced that Nguyen was fined and suspended for Saturday’s game for stomping on the back of John Stertzer during last week’s clash at Salt Lake. Without their leading scorer, the Revolution will have to find an alternative power source for their attack, which has already flickered in recent weeks. Expect a finally-healthy Kelyn Rowe to fill in for Nguyen in the central midfield, where he’s at his most effective. Interestingly, the last time the Fire paid a visit to Foxborough, Rowe scored a stoppage-time goal to seal a 2-0 win on Aug. 17, 2013.
• Beating their opponent to the board. Pop quiz: when was the last time the Revolution held a lead in league play? To find the answer, you have to go back to May 24, when Diego Fagundez scored a 77th-minute game-winner to send the Revolution on their way to a 2-1 win. Since then, conceding early goals has been a disturbing trend for the local XI. In each of their last four losses, the Revolution have conceded five first-half goals, while scoring only one of their own. While defense certainly has to improve, the offense must do its part, as well.
“As important as not conceding the first goal is scoring the first goal,” Tierney said. “We go in and attack and try to put the opposition on the back foot -- especially at home, we get that first goal and we feel really good about our chances during the game.”
• A call for creativity. Another unwelcome aspect of conceding early is that the team on top will often drop numbers and pack their defense tight to preserve the win. Should the Revolution find themselves in a similar predicament, the team must get creative in the final third. It may sound trite, but as the scoreline changes, so too must the ideas. Players like Diego Fagundez, Kelyn Rowe and Daigo Kobayashi must do better at creating new wrinkles to force their opponent out of its comfort zone. Putting chances on frame is one thing, but knocking an opponent’s balance off is another.
• The devil is in the details. It’s unlikely that the goals are going to start magically flowing for the Revolution on Saturday. And coach Jay Heaps knows it. In order for the Revolution to snap out of their four-game funk, it’s going to boil down to the fine print. Cutting down on what Tierney called “cheap chances” is one area for improvement. Another area the Revolution can work on is the simple art of finishing their shots. And after conceding two penalties to Salt Lake last week, it might also be a good idea to stay disciplined inside their own 18.
“It’s the little things that are going to get us out of it,” Heaps told the media on Thursday. “It’s not going to be a five-goal game; it’s going to be a set piece goal (and) a 1-0 win. It’s going to be something (like) grinding it out, and finding a way to get back in the positives.”