Do you remember the last time the Revolution started a season 2-0-0? Not undefeated, not a win and a draw, but winners of their first two. Six points in their first two. I’ll give you a few minutes to ponder it. Go ahead. I’ll wait right here.
Wait, who am I kidding? You know this one. You already know the last time the Revolution won two straight to start the season was nineteen ninety never. And you know that they’re o-2-2 following season-opening wins.
I say that to say this: on Saturday, the 2013 Revolution have a chance to rid themselves of that dubious mark. A chance to show the world that this team is different. A chance to let everyone know that they mean business. An opportunity to prove that New England’s path to MLS Cup glory isn’t secured in late autumn. No. The key to winning it all rests securely in the first two games of the regular season.
You laugh. Go ahead, laugh all you want! But the stats don’t lie: the Revs have never won an MLS Cup in years they’ve fallen short of six points in their first two. Never. They are an embarrassing 0 for 17.
Anyway, let’s dive headfirst from the heights of that preposterous proposition into a pool of possibilities, or as I like to call them, Five Questions.
1. Which Union team will show up on Saturday? So far, Philadelphia’s two games into their season, and both of those games featured very different approaches. In their opener against Sporting K.C., the Union grabbed an early lead, and kept the pressure on. It looked like it was going to work until their guests responded with three unanswered goals, handing the Union a loss unbefitting of the Bethlehem Steel third jerseys they sported. A week, later they went to Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, a place they’d never won, and beat the Rapids using the a crafty counterattack gameplan employed by every team to ever play in Colorado. Now that they’re back in Philly, expect the Union to resume their attack first, ask questions later approach against the Revs. If their showing two weeks ago was any indication, that gameplan will yield plenty of chances – for both clubs.
2. Will a healthy Kelyn Rowe get a spot in the starting XI? The way Jay Heaps described Rowe’s performance last week, you have to think that the Revs head coach is itching to pencil in his sophomore midfielder into this week’s lineup. Earlier this week, Rowe sported a drugstore variety knee wrap during training, but despite that, he looked like a player ready to go for 90 minutes. Or at least 60-65 minutes. Then again, Heaps knows that there’s no such thing as a must-win game in March. Well, at least not since his days at Duke. That said, expect Heaps to consult with the training staff before making a decision on whether last week’s gamechanger is good to go for the 5 o’clock first whistle.
3. What can we expect from Juan Toja? If you have any sense of what the Colombian midfielder/wreaker of havoc will bring to PPL Park after last week’s awesomely erratic performance, do yourself a favor: quit your job, create a bogus identity, procure a forged passport, link up with an underground betting syndicate, and watch the cash cascade into your illegal bank account. Seriously. I won’t say a word. Because, let’s face it: Toja in the hole is an unpredictable adventure. He is the Captain Jack Sparrow of the Revolution, an eccentric playmaker who uses guile and trickery (see last week’s the 63rd minute dive) to get into the box, set up a teammate or nearly trip his way into a goal. He may look awkward doing it, cut in and out of scenes at times, but you can’t argue that he wasn’t effective last week.
4. Can the backline bottle Jack McInerney? They’ll have to if they have any chance of snapping their dreaded winless run against the Union. He’s already touched New Engand for three goals in the last two years, scoring the game winners in both Union victories against the Revs last year. Just a suggestion: it might be a good idea for whomever’s marking him to never let him out of his sight on set pieces. Both game-winners were the result of McInerney sneaking through the defense and burying it right on the doorstep. In other words, the Revs can’t afford to cast McInerney as an afterthought, not even for a split second.
5. Will the Revolution walk away from PPL Park with their shutout streak intact? Believe it or not, but the last goal the Revolution conceded was McInerney’s 73rd minute tally back on Oct. 6. Since then, New England has quietly strung together a 286 minute shutout run. Quietly, of course, because shutout streaks are rarely accomplished loudly. But anyway, the backline was fortunate to face a Fire attack that wilted in the final third last week. Say what you will about the Union and their goofy Twitter hashtag, but that dude McInerney and his boy Sebastien Le Toux don’t miss very often inside the area. And their teammates? They send numbers, and then they send more numbers, or as Kevin Alston told me earlier this week, “they swarm you.” It’s tough to picture the Revs withstanding that brand of blatant disregard for defense completely unscathed.