A Stern Test

Stephen McCarthy (concussive-like symptoms) was upgraded to probable in Friday’s injury report.

The New England Revolution will be facing a team that is eerily similar to them when they play Sporting Kansas City on Saturday night. Both teams have veteran goalkeepers, capable defenses, and a variety of players that handle the scoring burden. And yet, the Revolution are almost at the complete opposite end of the Eastern Conference standings in comparison to the Conference leading Kansas City, making Saturday night’s contest a must-win for the Revs.

Under Jay Heaps, the Revolution has brought in a slew of young, talented players that should help them in the long run. But in the short term, the team is destined to have its growing pains. Defensive inconsistency and mental lapses have tailed the Revolution all season from giving up last-second goals to falling into early deficits.

Kansas City were once in the same boat as the Revolution. When Peter Vermes took over the team in 2009, he was in a similar situation that Heaps is in now: getting a team of young, talented players and a handful of veterans to make winning a habit. The minimum goal for every winning team is making the playoffs and for the first two years of Vermes’ career in Kansas City, his team failed to do that.

But in Vermes’ third year, he was able to get a nucleus of players that were both young and old to play consistently and, as a result, reached the playoffs last year. With his team leading the conference and looking down at the seventh-place Revolution, Vermes is an early favorite for MLS Coach of the Year.

At times, the Revolution have shown the same brilliance as Sporting Kansas City. Heaps is clearly on the right path by having his team play an offensive, possession-based style. But the one component to being successful that may have eluded the Revolution is time.

The veteran players have made the biggest difference for the Revolution this season. Clyde Simms and Shalrie Joseph have been instrumental with their midfield play, specifically helping the team transition from offense to defense. The young central defense tandem of AJ Soares and Stephen McCarthy might not have found its cohesion as quickly had it not been for a veteran goalkeeper like Matt Reis.

The key now is to take the younger members of the team and not only develop their technique but also adapt them to the league. The Revolution’s first year and second year players have all contributed in making the team competitive in every league game to date. But being competitive isn’t enough to be successful.

With their attention turned to snapping a two-game losing streak, the Revolution will be challenged against Kansas City. When the teams last met at LIVESTRONG Sporting Park in March, the Revolution suffered a crushing 3-0 defeat — the team’s worst of the year — after McCarthy picked up an early red card as he struggled with Kansas City’s forwards while playing just his second MLS game as a center back.

And with the Revs away record a dismal 1-7-1 compared to Kansas City’s 6-2-1 home record, one only needs to be realistic to predict the outcome of the game. Yes, the Revolution have been able to compete against any team in the league. But three points won’t always be awarded to the teams that play well. The bottom line against Kansas City, and against any other team, is to attack and defend better.

Kansas City’s lineup tomorrow will likely be chalk full of veterans, save for the promising young strikers Teal Bunbury and CJ Sapong. Darrius Barnes will likely pair with AJ Soares in defense unless Stephen McCarthy (listed as probable with concussive-like symptoms) is declared fit to play. The Revolution will want to play through Shalrie Joseph, if healthy, and Lee Nguyen, who has been their main catalyst all season.

The Revolution, if at their best, are capable of snatching a win in Kansas City. But as both Sporting and the Revolution have proved in the past and present, experience is key to finding consistency both offensively and defensively.

The match kicks off at 8:30 p.m. and can be seen live on Comcast Sportsnet New England.

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About Julian Cardillo

Julian Cardillo is a current undergrad at Brandeis University. In addition to writing for NE Soccer Today, he posts stories on his own sites: revspress.com and breakerspress.com, covers the Boston Breakers for Breakersnet.com, and writes for the Brandeis Justice as beat writer for the men's soccer team.