For the second week in a row, the Revolution (2-3-3, 9 pts.) will face an opponent that they’ve found scant success against in recent years when the defending MLS Cup Champion Colorado Rapids (4-3-1, 13 pts.) come to Gillette Stadium on Saturday night.
The Revs, who haven’t beaten the Rapids since they staked a 1-0 victory on September 29, 2007, will not only hope to snap their six-game (0-3-3) winless streak against their MLS original club counterpart, but also avenge last season’s humiliating shutout loss that saw Colorado kiss New England’s net three times back on September 18, 2010.
Saturday’s match will give the Revs an opportunity to find a rare over win over the Rapids and a chance to exorcise some demons. Last week, the Revs were given a 3-0 thumping by a sneaky Chivas USA squad that ran circles around them at the Home Depot Center. According to some of the players in the Revolution locker room, one of those demons may have been overconfidence, which the team was brimming with after its thrilling 3-2 victory over Kansas City the week prior. With the defending champs in town, the Revs will have no choice but to focus on the task at hand. One development that will aid New England’s cause will be the return of goalkeeper Matt Reis and midfielder Stephen McCarthy. Both players missed last week’s match and should help keep the Rapids from channeling the same attacking display Chivas used to dismantle the Revs.
To the left of the Revolution bench, Rapids manager Gary Smith will bring in a rejuvenated squad that claimed its first victory in nearly a month during Wednesday’s 2-1 slump-busting win at Houston. Colorado, which was on a four-game winless streak (0-3-1) entering its mid-week match, has been one of the least-respected league champions in MLS history, and has made it a mission to back its 2010 MLS Cup victory by playing physical and attacking soccer this season. To do so, they’ve relied on the strength of their midfield, which features MLS All- Stars Pablo Mastroeni and Jeff Larentowicz. When the Rapids midfield is at its best, they usually have no problems finding goals for Omar Cummings (2 goals) and Scottish sensation Jamie Smith (3 goals).
If the Revs wish to erase their recent run of rueful play against the Rapids, they’ll have to accomplish the following Saturday night:
1. Set the tempo immediately. Last week, the Revs were slow out of the gate and as a result, they played reactionary soccer. Note: reactionary soccer is not typically associated with winning soccer. Therefore, in order to avoid the same kind of chaos that ensued in Carson, the Revs must dictate from the opening whistle.
2. Play your man. Perhaps one of the most glaring mistakes in last week’s loss was the disconcerting number of defenders playing the ball rather than their man. Not that this was anything new. It’s been a lingering issue all season. But if there’s one team the Revs cannot afford to make mental mistakes -- like ball watching -- against, it’s the quick-strike Rapids.
3. Watch your temper. The Rapids are one of the most physical teams in the league and the Revs have never been shy to mix it up with any team. However, they have to be careful not to let the Rapids bait them into the referee’s book, a trap in which the Revs have fallen for far too often this season (17 yellow cards, 3 red cards).
Key matchup: Omar Cummings on Franco Coria. During Colorado’s 3-0 victory over the Revs last September, Cummings cut the Revs defenders into pieces, scoring a goal and nearly adding another. But that was before Coria, who was acquired in the offseason, entered the fray. The Argentine’s sound man-marking will likely give Cummings a much tougher challenge this time around.
The Revs have a considerable task ahead of them if they hope to find what they’re looking for -- namely, three points -- on Saturday night. That search must begin within themselves, as they cannot allow the same mental errors that plagued them last weekend to reappear.
Brian O'Connell is covering the Revolution for ESPNBoston.com. He is the co-founder of New England Soccer Today (www.nesoccertoday.com), which covers professional soccer within New England. He can be reached at BOConnell21@aol.com.