Revs gear up for season's biggest challenge

The struggling New England Revolution (3-8-7, 16 points) face their toughest opponent of the season on Wednesday when English Premier League Champions Manchester United head to Gillette Stadium.

The game may not count in the standings, but with the Red Devils bringing a laundry list of the world’s best players there is plenty of reason for the fans -- and the Revolution players -- to be excited for the match.

“It’s something you dream as a kid to play against the best players in the world and when you get the opportunity to do it, you just have to embrace it,” said Revolution Captain Shalrie Joseph.

United recently proved their merits to the world by advancing all the way to the UEFA Champions League Final, the tournament that crowns the best team in Europe, only to fall to FC Barcelona. It was the third time in the past four years Man U reached the final, having won the tournament in 2008. The club’s English Premier League title this season was their fourth in the past five seasons.

And the Revs should see plenty of Manchester United’s top players on Wednesday. In international exhibitions there is always concern about teams not bringing their top players, but with English Internationals Wayne Rooney and Rio Ferdinand, Portuguese International Nani, and the legendary Ryan Giggs all among the traveling squad, there will be no shortage of talent on display.

Undoubtedly the Revs will be huge underdogs entering the match, but that won’t stop head coach Steve Nicol from putting out the squad he feels will give his side the best chance to win.

“This will be a full squad, certainly,” said Nicol. “We’re not going to be putting in guys who aren’t ready for this. It wouldn’t help them, nor us. We’ll be starting with a first team, and obviously we’ll make changes and try and get some guys the opportunity to see what the game’s all about.”

The Revs do have some advantages, however. For United, it’s just the first match of their preseason, so the Revs will most certainly have an edge in fitness.

“Obviously our preparation is not 100 percent at the moment because we only started on the fourth of July for medical testing and then with training since then,” said Sir Alex Ferguson, who has managed the Red Devils since 1986.

An upset, while improbable, is not impossible. In fact, the Kansas City Wizards (now Sporting K.C.) defeated Manchester United during their last preseason tour of the United States by a score of 2-1.

In addition to an edge in fitness, the Revs have the obvious advantage of playing at home. That also means the pressure is on the Revs, more than Man U, to avoid embarrassment.

“We know it’s not their regular season so we need this more than they do, especially with the way we’ve been playing during the season,” said Joseph. “I think on Wednesday, even though it’s not an MLS game, it’s a league game in terms of what we want to do and where we want to go from there and being in front of our fans, we don’t want to embarrass ourselves.

“We want to go out there and give a good showing and make sure we battle, work hard, and at the end of 90 minutes, we should be pleased with our effort,” he added.

While a win for United is expected, a loss in their first preseason game would hardly be devastating. A win for the Revs, however, would be quite the achievement.

“It would be an understatement to say that if we go out there and get three points or get a win against the second-best team in the world it would do so much for our careers and so much for the Revolution organization that we beat Manchester United,” said Joseph.

But Nicol is perhaps more realistic in what would constitute success for his team. The Revs skipper is hoping for his side to put in a positive, confidence-building performance.

“If we can do well against a team like that in stages of the game then that will give us confidence moving forward in the season,” he said.

Last year the Revs suffered two crushing defeats in their international friendlies, falling 4-0 to Portugal’s Benfica and 3-0 to Brazil’s Cruzeiro. New England would fall to defeat in their next league match following each of those games as well.

For a Revs side mired in the midst of an eight-game winless streak, putting in a good show and gaining confidence could be vital to a team desperate to turn their season around.