With a disastrous first half of the season behind them, the slumping Revolution (3-8-6, 15 pts.) have a formidable challenge ahead of them as they enter the second half of the regular season.
Never mind that they’re sinking thanks to a seven-game winless streak. Or the fact that they’ve scored a league-low 13 goals this season.
On Monday night -- Independence Day -- the Revolution will need to set off some offensive fireworks to free themselves of their first half woes against CONCACAF Champions League finalist Real Salt Lake (7-3-5, 26 pts.) at Rio Tinto Stadium.
The nationally-televised Fourth of July showdown will mark the second and final time these clubs will meet during the regular season. Earlier in the year, Salt Lake, in the midst of their Champions League run, fielded a second-choice squad that handed the then-undefeated Revs their first loss of the season by the score of 2-0 on April 9th.
However, much has changed since that initial meeting. With the Revs sinking in the Eastern Conference basement and Salt Lake stagnant in the middle of the Western Conference table, the rematch will feature two teams attempting to reclaim their early-season forms.
Last weekend looked promising for the Revs -- albeit briefly. In the third minute, the Revs silenced the raucous Seattle crowd thanks to a Sainey Nyassi strike to give the team its first lead in six weeks. But, it wouldn’t last long. The Sounders bounced back with a pair of goals before the half and held on to send the Revs to their seventh straight match without a win.
Salt Lake has been no stranger to slumps this season, even though they’re undefeated in their last four. Shortly after falling short of a CONCACAF Champions league title, the club stumbled badly, winning only two of their next ten. But, it appears they may be on their way to reclaiming their early-season form. Last weekend’s 3-1 win over Toronto -- which saw Alvaro Saborio finally score his first, then second, goal of the season -- may point to a Salt Lake revival just in time for the summer months.
In order to have any chance at Rio Tinto, a place where road wins are hard to find, the Revs will have to do the following to get a result:
Score early. Last week, Nyassi’s 3rd-minute goal silenced the hostile Seattle crowd and put the Revs in a comfortable position early. They’ll need to replicate that situation against a Salt Lake squad that doesn’t leak through many goals, early or otherwise. Through 15 games, Salt Lake’s allowed a league-low nine goals this season, so getting on the board first -- and early -- will put the Revs in an enviable position.
Hunker down. Regardless of whether the Revs score the opening goal or not, they will undoubtedly have to tighten up their defense. Matched up against Saborio and regular Revolution tormentor Fabian Espindola, the Revs have to be sharp in the back and become a counterattacking team. However, the Revs also have to be careful to keep tabs on every one, as Salt Lake has found goals from 11 different players this season.
Find some luck. Let’s be real -- the Revs have a considerable mountain to scale when they arrive at Rio Tinto. Not only have they never won there, but they’ve failed to score in front of the Salt Lake faithful since the Stadium opened in October of 2008. To get a result, the Revs are going to need a lucky bounce or break to secure a point, never mind a win, at the fortress known as Rio Tinto Stadium.
Recent history has not been kind to the Revs at the Rio. Their only two matches at Salt Lake’s state-of-the-art stadium have been embarrassments for the Revs. In 2009, they were lit up for six goals in a 6-0 loss. Last year, Salt Lake throttled them 5-0 in another humiliating loss. For those of you scoring at home, that’s 11 goals allowed in 180 minutes. This time around, the Revs must play smart, defensively-sound soccer in order to avoid a similar fate.
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.