Saturday night’s Eastern Conference clash between the New England Revolution and Columbus Crew is a critical game for both teams, as just two points — currently the difference between making the playoffs and missing out on the postseason — separates them in the standings.
That the Revolution (5-7-1, 16 points) and Crew (5-4-3, 18 points) are so close in the standings and both mid-table in the East one third of the way through the season shows how inconsistent both teams have been. Both teams are hovering around the .500 mark and have allowed just as many goals as they’ve scored.
And because of those statistics, neither the Revolution nor Crew are undisputed favorites to come out on top on Saturday night. The only glaring statistical advantage is that the Revolution have been difficult to beat at Gillette Stadium this season. With a 4-1-1 record in Foxborough, the Revs may be slight favorites over the Crew, who have been a mediocre 2-2-2 on the road.
But the Revolution know that playing at home won’t guarantee a victory. The Revolution need to both score and limit errors. When the Revolution have remained minimized mistakes, they’ve been competitive in every match and shown flashes of brilliance. In contrast, games that contain loose passes and bad marking — particularly on set pieces — have made the Revolution look poor.
It’s the latter that New England will want to avoid.
“They seem like a team that really waits for the opponent to make a mistake,” said Revolution midfielder Benny Feilhaber about the Crew to RevolutionSoccer.net. “They’ve got a decent team, but they don’t have any really flashy players. I think they lull some teams to sleep a little bit and then they pounce.
“We’ve got to be on top of our game for 90 minutes, especially from the get-go. [We need] to get on top of them early and put in our chances, because that’s what they’ve been able to do in their games.”
The Revolution, who are coming off a bye week, will need to make sure that their lack of competitive play in the last few days won’t keep them from being sharp. The Revolution were rusty coming off of a bye week in April and paid for it, losing two consecutive games.
But in April, the Revolution entered their bye week after a tough, last minute loss to Dallas. This time, the Revolution return to play after a critical 2-0 victory over the Chicago Fire. So Feilhaber thinks the Revolution will be able to maintain their positive momentum, despite the brief break.
“We’ve had those two weeks off but they’ve been a good two weeks because of the win,” said Feilhaber to RevolutionSoccer.net. “We haven’t been sulking about any loss or draw that should’ve been three points, so we’re all happy about what we’ve done in the last two weeks. We’ve come in to work hard the last two weeks and we’ve been preparing. I think the momentum will be there in this game.”
Once game time comes, the Revolution’s key to winning will be in controlling the midfield. Clyde Simms, who has been a crucial presence for the Revolution in defensive midfield, is still rehabilitating an injury after missing the past three games. Unavailable as well is Ryan Guy, Simms’ makeshift replacement.
“(He’s) moving along,” Heaps said of Simms to RevolutionSoccer.net. “We have to make sure we monitor his reps in training, but again, he’s someone we want to see available very soon.”
Despite missing Simms and Guy, the Revolution should still have enough to find a victory. The Crew are coming into the game without many of their starters as they have one of the league’s longest injury lists. What is more, Feilhaber, who scored and assisted in the Chicago game two weeks ago, has been returned to his preferred central midfield position alongside Shalrie Joseph in the wake of injuries.
“It’s possible that we won’t create too many chances in the game, but we have to stick with it,” said Feilhaber to RevolutionSoccer.net. “Keep grinding it out. Maybe it’ll come early, it might not. If it doesn’t, we have to keep patient and believe that the way we play soccer is going to eventually pay dividends.”