Returning to Gillette Stadium holding the same number of points they had when they left for their recent two-game road set, the Revolution (3-7-4, 13 pts.) will attempt to rediscover their winning ways against Toronto FC (2-5-8, 14 pts.) on Wednesday night.
The game will start at 8:00pm and will be broadcast on Comcast SportsNet New England. On the radio, 98.5 The Sports Hub will also carry the game on its HD2 station as a result of its Game 7 coverage of the NHL’s Stanley Cup playoffs between the Bruins and Canucks.
Wednesday's match will be the first of the season between the Eastern Conference foes. Last year, the Revs took a bite out of their Canadian counterparts with a 4-1 win on April 10th that saw Zack Schilawski pick up his first three MLS goals. But, weeks later, on May 22nd, Toronto avenged the loss with a 1-0 win at BMO Field thanks to a Chad Barrett goal in the 53rd minute.
This year, the Revs may find it difficult to put another 4-spot on the Reds, even with the home crowd behind them. Through their first 14 games, the Revs have scored a league-low 11 goals, and have only two multiple-goal games to their credit (March 26th vs. D.C. and April 23rd vs. Sporting K.C.).
During last weekend’s match against the Red Bulls, the Revs unraveled as a result of an embarrassing two-goal swing in the first half. With no score in the 34th minute, Shalrie Joseph had an excellent opportunity to put the Revs up via the penalty, but could only watch when his shot was denied by Greg Sutton. Minutes after the miss, Ryan Cochrane inadvertently put a Thierry Henry pass into the back of the net to give the Red Bulls a fortuitous 1-0 lead in the 37th minute. While Zak Boggs secured a slice of success when he scored the team’s first goal from the run of play since April 23rd -- a streak that ran exactly 600 minutes -- in the 54th minute, it simply wasn’t enough, as the Revs dropped their fourth straight by the score of 2-1.
While the Revs attack has been the primary culprit of their early season shortcomings, it’s been the Reds defense (25 goals allowed) that's betrayed them thus far. Three weeks ago, they were lit up for six goals by a struggling Philadelphia offense on May 28th. Not that it was entirely surprising. When the Reds give away goals, they give them away in bunches. In fact, three of their five losses this season have been blowouts that have featured losing margins of three or more goals.
Despite their inconsistent form this season, Toronto found itself going toe-to-toe with the league leading Los Angeles Galaxy, going into stoppage time with a 1-1 score last weekend. One minute into bonus soccer, Juan Pablo Angel broke through with a 91st minute goal, giving the Galaxy faithful every reason to believe that their pesky guests were finished. That was until the familiar face of Alan Gordon -- the former Galaxy striker himself -- tasted sweet revenge against his former club with a last-gasp goal in the 94th minute that enabled the Canadian side to steal a precious point on the road with a 2-2 tie.
While Toronto’s offense-first philosophy may present the Revs with a considerable challenge, it’s worth mentioning that the Revs have never lost to the Reds in Foxborough. Since Toronto’s arrival in MLS, the Revs sport a 4-0-1 record all-time when their Canadian neighbors make it down for a match.
If the Revs have any hopes of returning to the win column on Wednesday, they must contemplate the following:
Be confident. For the Revs to succeed, they cannot let their recent performances affect their focus. In recent weeks, the Revs have seemed unsure of themselves, whether it’s due to their opponents form or their own lack of cohesion. In order to win, they have to believe in themselves, despite their recent losses. The Revs have the players to compete -- they just have to play up to their potential.
Seal the rear. Toronto makes up for its generous defending by throwing numbers forward whenever it gets the chance. In years past, the Revs could target former Toronto playmaker Dwayne DeRosario and limit his chances by marking him out of the match. Without DeRosario, who was traded to New York earlier this season, Toronto has rested its hopes on Maicon Santos, Joao Plata, and Alan Gordon. Plata could prove especially dangerous, as the elusive Ecuadorian is never hesitant to weave through traffic in the attacking third.
Shake things up. The 4-5-1 formation isn’t working. Rajko Lejic, who was brought in to score goals, has only a single strike to speak of through nine games. While some of the fault may lie with him, it’s obvious that the Danish striker has been desperate for service all season. So why not partner him up alongside another striker? Rookie Alan Koger, a good hold-up striker who’s performed well in reserve action this year (2 goals, 1 assist), appears to be an ideal candidate to alleviate the congestion the Revs have faced in the attacking third.
Wednesday night’s match may give the Revs exactly what they need in order to snap their four-game skid -- a road-weary opponent that has failed to beat them in Foxborough. But, in order to capitalize this opportunity, it’s clear that the Revs simply cannot continue along the same path they’ve been traveling for the past four weeks.
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.