PREVIEW: Fire @ Revolution

Posted on 17 June 2011 by Matty Jollie

Saturday evening marks the third match in eight days for the New England Revolution (3-7-5, 14pts), as they entertain the Chicago Fire (2-4-8, 14pts) to wrap up the Revs’ brief homestand.  New England enters the match on only three days’ rest after battling to a 0-0 draw on Wednesday night with Toronto FC in front of a sparsely populated Gillette Stadium, while Chicago has been flying high of late, defeating Columbus 1-0 on Sunday afternoon, their third successive shutout under new head coach Frank Klopas.  This particular fixture has always been hotly contested, and the history between the two sides is well documented, however with recent results being what they are, both sides are certainly more focused on getting a result, rather than getting caught up in a rivalry. With only five wins between the two clubs, look for an intense, physical matchup on Saturday, as they both look to right the ship in Foxboro.  Let’s take a look at how the match shapes up on the field:

GOALKEEPER: You’ve got to admire the way Revolution keeper Matt Reis has played this season. Constantly battling through injuries, Reis has found his best form as of late, showing signs that his health is close to fully-healed.  Coming off of a shutout of Toronto FC on Wednesday night, look for Matt Reis between the pipes again on Saturday.  Chicago will counter with 22-year old Sean Johnson, who, under new head coach Frank Klopas’ new system, has flourished.  The Atlanta-born Johnson has always possessed the size and length, but until recently lacked the polish necessary to lead a club on a week-in week-out basis, however with three consecutive shutouts and a struggling Revs’ offense, Johnson has got to love his chances for a fourth clean sheet in as many matches. ADVANTAGE: NEW ENGLAND. When Matt Reis is healthy, there are few better, although Johnson is clearly the hotter hand coming into Saturday.

DEFENDERS: When you examine the Revolution’s recent struggles, it often times has not been the deficiency of their back four. Given the injury bug that has plagued the team, the back line has seemingly persevered throughout the 2011 campaign.  Kevin Alston has remained healthy for most of the season which is always a bright spot for New England, and rookie A.J. Soares has clearly become the leader at the center of the Revolution defense.  Even through the recent winless streak, the defense has shown good communication and cohesion, and its’ lack of team speed at the back has seemed to be what has done them in. Didier Domi did not play on Wednesday night, and it would be hard to see him return only a few days later, so look for Darrius Barnes, who has performed admirably, to fill in at left-back once again. After a horrendous start to the new season, Chicago has seemingly shored up its defensive wall recently under their new regime.  Old friend Cory Gibbs will be found at the center of the revamped Fire defense, and through his veteran leadership the Fire have found good form, as well as finally gaining some composure and structure at the back. Gibbs will be joined by other MLS veterans Gonzalo Segares and Jalil Anibaba, who have also played big roles in the defensive renaissance in Chicago. ADVANTAGE: Chicago. You’ve got to play the hot hand, and the Fire haven’t conceded since the end of May.

MIDFIELDERS: In what has been yet another injury riddled season, New England will once again piece together a central midfield, as they will most likely be without the services of Ousmane Dabo and Benny Feilhaber on Saturday night. While Dabo was listed as out on the latest injury report, Revs’ fans can find a little solace in the fact that Feilhaber WAS upgraded to doubtful, but it would be a minor medical miracle to see the USMNT product on the field against Chicago.  Captain Shalrie Joseph will be in the middle of it all once again, and after not seeing the field on Saturday night, one can expect to see rookie Stephen McCarthy back in the midfield after a stale performance from New England on Wednesday.  Wing play has settled down ever so slightly for the Revs’, as Chris Tierney has filled the left midfield role quite nicely, providing better service to the players up top, but it is the right wing that continues to be the thorn in the side of the Revolution. Neither Sainey Nyassi or Zak Boggs have truly distanced themselves from the other this season, and while it has been Boggs receiving the lions’ share of the minutes, one wonders if perhaps head coach Steve Nicol should throw a curve ball somewhere soon and insert the likes of Kenny Mansally in the mix to see if perhaps a different formula would produce a better result.  Chicago has talent aplenty in their midfield, with the speed of Patrick Nyarko and the playmaking abilities of Baggoi Husidic and Dominic Oduro, and continue to improve their run of play under Klopas.  It will certainly come down to how the Revolution bottle up the speed of Nyarko, as has been the case in several matches this season for New England.  In the middle of the park , New England can without a doubt overpower the central midfielders of Chicago, and that particular matchup will be important to the success of the Revs’ on Saturday night. With Nyarko kept quiet, New England can battle through the match in the center of the field, and try to scratch out a result over a slightly more talented Fire midfield. ADVANTAGE: Push. Both teams have strengths and weaknesses that actually complement the other side. It’s going to come down to who imposes their will on the other.

FORWARDS: It’s easily said that New England has struggled offensively, but what is not easily said is why: Rajko Lekic simply doesn’t look the part.  After scoring against Sporting Kansas City, Lekic has almost disappeared, and if it weren’t for the constant temper tantrums thrown and the countless kicks to sideline advertisement boards, he’d be completely invisible.  One can argue the lack of service, one can argue attitude, but there is no arguing the fact that Rajko Lekic has failed to score since April 23rd. A bright spot for the Revs’ offense is that Steve NIcol has seemingly scrapped the stand-alone striker formation, adding Kenny Mansally to the strike tandem with Lekic on Wednesday night.  Lekic needs to be partnered with a possession type strike partner, and the team did look a little better with Zack Schilawski in there with him in the second half, so look for the second year man to get a little more run on Saturday night.  Chicago hasn’t exactly been scorching the nets either, scoring only one goal in their last three league matches, and will look to improve against a New England side that has the tendency to struggle with containing speed.  Th biggest concern with Chicago is quite simply the lack of talent up top.  Diego Chaves has yet to pan out and really stand out from the rest of the pack, and often times, it’s Nyarko who moves up from a midfield spot to give the attack a little bit of a bite.  With the departure of Gaston Puerari to Club Atlas in Mexico, the questions only increase, as now head coach Frank Klopas is left with another hole in his attack. Look for a lesser-known forward to get a look on Saturday night, and if you would like a name to look out for, keep an eye out for 19-year old Orr Barrouch, who has seen some time, and will now almost by default, see more minutes in the Chicago attack. ADVANTAGE: Push. Neither side scores at will. If you really needed an answer, New England would get the edge almost by default with Chicago’s forward depth in flux.  It wouldn’t be a surprise that if any goals were to be scored on Saturday night, they’d come from the midfield.

PREDICTION: Saturday night is one of those matches that could go either way.  Chicago is very hot defensively right now, and New England has struggled to score goals.  While New England is coming off only three days’ rest, Chicago has had all week to prepare.  With injuries still plaguing the Revolution midfield, it’s hard to see the results taking a turn for the better. Patrick Nyarko will find space through his speed and create the lone goal of the match. FIRE 1 – REVOLUTION 0.

 

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