Welcome to the latest installment of “The Revolution Face a Must-Win Game!” In our last episode, the local XI went to Sporting Park hoping to bounce back from a 1-0 loss to lowly-Toronto FC. What followed was one of the worst displays of road football seen since the kids on the Big Green fell to the Knights 18-0 in Austin, as the Revolution were pummeled 3-0 by a superior Sporting Kansas City side that showed no mercy against its woeful opponent.
With their wounds licked and their pride on the mend, the Revolution will be pitted against one of the hottest clubs in America: the Chicago Fire. Yes, the same Fire that looked sluggish during a season-opening 1-0 loss to the Revolution are now climbing the conference, and look keen to continue their unbeaten ways on Saturday at Gillette Stadium.
Like last week’s contest, the stakes surrounding Saturday’s clash make it “must-win” because it, like the rest of the games from now through Oct. 27 are all classic six-point contests. This week it rings especially true for Saturday, because the team that pulls away with three points could overtake Houston for the fifth spot, while the team that comes up empty handed could find themselves suddenly closer to Columbus. Note: no club should want to be close to Columbus at this juncture of the season.
While the a Chicago loss could be seen as a road bump for a club that’s gone 7-2-3 since mid-May, a Revolution defeat would only remind its loyal supporters of last summer, which looked alot like the summer before, and that summer wasn’t much better, either. It should be noted that each of these summers started off promising, like Noah’s did when he met Allie in The Notebook. But as we learned, that summer doesn’t end well for Noah, and the same could be said about the Revolution’s summers in recent years.
Now, a draw – a draw wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. It wouldn’t. It would actually signify a marked improvement over the Revolution’s last two games, which both ended in losses, one of them to one of the worst clubs to ever step onto an MLS pitch. One point is better than none, at least according to the logic we picked up in kindergarten. But in this instance, a point only keeps the Revolution treading water. The last time a club made its postseason push by treading water along the way? The nineteen ninety never New England Nobodies.
A win would be a mighty fine way to remind the rest of the conference that the Revolution still have their muskets and cannons at the ready. Three points could lift them back into fifth place should Houston fall to the Clint Dempsey-infused Seattle Sounders on Saturday. A win wouldn’t quiet the critics, mind you, but you get the sense that a good, old-time midsummer win over a conference foe would feel like chicken soup for the Revolution’s soul.
Will the Revolution pull off the victory against the Fire? Can they avoid another costly red card, or the indignity of an ex-teammate scoring on them? And what can they do to avoid a future #mikemageefacts reference? Stay tuned for future episodes ”Revolution Face a Must-Win Game!”
In the meantime, let’s look at the questions surrounding Saturday’s conference clash, which could conjure up flashbacks of postseasons past.
1. What are the chances we see both Juan Agudelo and Charlie Davies on the pitch? With Dimitry Imbongo sitting in the corner thanks to last week’s red card, it looks like Chad Barrett will get the start up top. Now, Barrett is a serviceable striker who’ll win a few ball inside the box and batter a few defenders in the process. But let’s assume for a minute that Saturday’s game takes place in the real world – a world in which Barrett is an unlikely candidate to spearhead an attack that hasn’t scored in its last 206 minutes. With that in mind, it seems reasonable to assume that Heaps will call for reinforcements around the hour mark. One of those is likely to be either Agudelo or Davies. The smart money is on Davies, who appears to be fully fit at the moment and a player who perfectly fits the classic “chomping at the bit” description. However, depending upon the scoreline, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Agudelo, too – perhaps in the final 10-15 minutes. Whether one or the other or both see the field, it can only be viewed as a positive development for a club in desperate need of some firepower in front of goal.
2. What do the Revolution have to do to beat Chicago? Saturday’s game has the potential to be a barnburner, and not just because the Fire are playing in it. For starters, nine of Chicago’s last 10 matches have featured over 2.5 goals, which isn’t terribly surprising given that 1.) they have Mike Magee, 2.) their defense, despite the addition of Bakary Soumare, isn’t terribly great and, 3.) they don’t pass the ball very well. Sloppy football often yields baseball scores, and the Revolution have to be ready for this possibility. For all the success the Fire’s acquired over the past three months, they’re still a flawed team. But they are a flawed team that finds ways to win. The few quality chances they find are often converted, and that doesn’t bode well for a defense that was just lit up for three goals last weekend. So, in order to stop the Fire in its tracks, the offense must come alive early, and remain potent throughout. Oh, and they may also want to keep an eye on Magee. Just a suggestion.
3. What must the Revolution avoid at all costs against the Fire? That’s an easy one: Turnovers. Simple concept, of course, but limiting them has proven to be a difficult task for the Revolution. Their passing accuracy (75 percent) and possession rate (46.6 percent) are among the lowest numbers in the conference, and it’s easy to see why: they cough up the ball far, far too often. This was especially evident last week in Kansas City, where Peter Vermes’ club benefited tremendously from the Revolution’s generosity. Although the Fire are certainly no Sporting K.C., they similarly feast on mistakes. They sit back and wait for their prey to stroll into their end, and they pounce as soon as they smell blood. This is how the Fire have gotten it done for the better part of this season, and the Revolution could be an easy target, like an unsuspecting antelope in the African wilderness. Kelyn Rowe talked about quick movement and 1-2 touch soccer in the midfield after training on Wednesday, and that’s certainly something to work on. But the Revolution need to get back to the basics. They need to hold on the ball when they have it before they can start thinking tiki-taka.
4. Will Diego Fagundez return to the lineup? Given the above premise outlined question 2 that Chicago isn’t all that special defensively, Fagundez should find himself back in the lineup after he was dropped last week. With the likelihood that the Revolution are going to need multiple goals to beat the Fire, it stands to reason that Heaps would unleash his leading scorer right from the get-go. Although the Revolution were blanked by Toronto in Fagundez’s last start, he nearly scored three times, with a pair of timely clearances and the bar conspiring against his efforts that evening. While it may be true that opponents – especially ones that rely on counterattacking – are starting to figure out Fagundez’s tendencies, the reality remains that he’s dynamic enough to still cause problems for back fours and goalkeepers alike.
5. Can the defense return to its first-half self? Not all that long ago, a lot of internet ink was used to tout the success of the Revolution’s defense, which was busy blanking a variety of opponents, good (Sporting K.C.), bad (Toronto FC) and ugly (D.C. United). Jose Goncalves and Bobby Shuttleworth were bonafide All-Star candidates, even if they fell well short of ever getting to play Roma (which, in hindsight, was probably a good thing given the way that game unfolded). But since the midway of the season, the defense has been Nilla Wafer ordinary. In their last six games, the Revolution have conceded nine goals, and have only clean sheet to speak of. Making matters worse, many of those strikes had no business finding the back of the net. Heck, even Benny Feilhaber managed to score against this defense. Although the personnel on the other end of the pitch aren’t exactly helping the Revolution cause lately (six goals scored in the same span), the defense has to shake off this run of mediocrity quick if they have any ambitions of playing meaningful soccer in late-October.