Pride and Playoffs

Will Benny Feilhaber find some success against the Crew defense on Saturday? (Photo: Kari Heistad/CapturedImages.biz)

When the Columbus Crew and New England Revolution face off on Saturday, the two teams will be hoping for victory for entirely different reasons. The Crew will be seeking a crucial three points to stay alive in the playoff hunt, while the Revolution will simply be looking to build towards 2013 and grab their first win since July 8.

Columbus (9-8-6, 33 points) is coming off a crucial 2-1 midweek home win over Toronto FC that sees the club seven points out of a Eastern Conference playoff spot with a game in hand on fifth place D.C. United. The Crew also have two games in hand on both the Houston Dynamo and Chicago Fire, who sit eight points above them in the standings in third and fourth place, respectively.

The path isn’t easy for the Crew, but with games remaining against both D.C. and Chicago, their destiny is in their own hands. Their playoff chances stand at a respectable 28% with 11 games remaining according to Sports Club Stats. A loss to the Revolution, however, would nearly halve those chances.

New England (6-13-5, 23 points), meanwhile, has lost any realistic postseason hopes and is getting closer to mathematical elimination with just a 0.04% chance remaining. Even a 10-0-0 run to finish the season wouldn’t be enough to guarantee the Revolution a playoff spot without some help from other results along the way.

But, the Revolution could use a win nearly as much as the Crew. While a win for the Crew may have more tangible positives for the club, the Revolution are in desperate need of a victory to provide some hope for the future.

In the midst of a seven game winless run (0-6-1), the Revolution are two games away from tying the club record of nine set in 1999 and matched last season. That will surely be a mark first year head coach Jay Heaps hopes to avoid.

And, the New England desperately needs some positive results to give the club something to build on for 2013. Before the recent slump, the Revolution sat at 6-7-4, were playing attractive attacking soccer and looked to quickly be putting 2011 in the rearview mirror.

Now, the team seems to be regressing. That attacking style has been effectively stymied by opponents. The team is quickly approaching another dubious record, having failed to score in nine games this season, just two less than the club record of 11 set in 2010 and one less than the 10 in last year’s season full of offensive struggles.

While the team has plenty of excuses for their struggles – fouls, penalty calls, mistakes, etc. – they haven’t found any answers. Excuses aren’t going to make this team better this fall or in 2013, only solutions will do that. The coaching staff and players need to find them.

Despite the defensive struggles in last weekend’s 2-1 loss to the Chicago Fire, the Revolution’s main concern has to be the offense.  Designated Player Jerry Bengtson finally getting a full week of training in with the club should help. The Honduran International should be ready to start on Saturday.

What isn’t so clear is who will play around Bengtson and create chances to put his finishing abilities to good use. Saer Sene, his likely partner up top, has scored just two goals in 12 games since May, while playing both up top and on the wings. The French forward’s confidence around goal seems to have taken a hit as his finishing has declined from his early season form.

More questions live in the midfield, where the team’s highest paid player, Benny Feilhaber, found himself benched to start the match against the Fire. The sometimes U.S. International hasn’t always fit seamlessly into the Revolution’s system, but is too talented and too highly paid to be a bench player – much like the team decided with Shalrie Joseph before trading him earlier this month.

With Lee Nguyen (left ankle sprain) questionable, however, any decision on Feilhaber’s future may be put on hold. It’s hard to see Feilhaber on the sideline, when Nguyen, who along with Feilhaber are the team’s two most creative threats in midfield, might be unable to start.

Still, who starts at right midfield is another question. Rookie Kelyn Rowe hasn’t done enough to cement his place in the starting eleven, as shown by Fernando Cardenas’ start against the Fire. Despite scoring on Saturday, Cardenas appears to do his best work off the bench. Finding the answer to the right midfield spot is one of many issues Heaps will be looking to solve in the final ten games.

Regardless of the lineups, Saturday’s match-up looks destined for a tight final score. Seventeen of the Crew’s 23 matches have been decided by a goal or finished in a draw, as have 19 of the Revolution’s 24 matches. The big difference? The Crew are a respectable 6-5-6 in those 17 games, while the Revolution are a dismal 2-12-5.

The two teams played to a scoreless draw on June 16 at Gillette Stadium.

Prediction: Crew 2, Revolution 1

Projected Line-up (R-to-L):  Reis; Alston, McCarthy, Soares, Tierney; Rowe, Simms, Feilhaber, Guy; Sene, Bengtson

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About Sean Donahue

Sean Donahue has been covering the New England Revolution since 2002 for various publications. He has covered four MLS Cups, in addition to covering various international matches, including World Cup Qualifying and the CONCACAF Gold Cup. He has done freelance work for the AP and ESPN Boston. Sean hosted Revolution Recap, a weekly radio program covering the New England Revolution and U.S. Men's National Team from 2005-2008. He is a member of the North American Soccer Reporters. Sean can be reached at nesoccertoday@gmail.com or followed on twitter @SeanLDonahue