It may not have looked like it on Sunday, but the Revolution might have been the luckiest club in MLS last weekend.
OK, so maybe the two penalties called against them, the early red card to Matt Reis, the matching Marco Di Vaio goals, and the fact they gave up four goals without conceding a single corner kick all seemed to suggest otherwise. But looking at the larger picture, the Revolution might as well have adopted Lucky the Leprechaun as its mascot last weekend.
Within a five day span from September 4-8, the Revolution needed five contests to fall their way to retain possession of fifth place in the event they lost to first place Montreal. And wouldn’t you know? All five contests did well to cooperate.
The Revolution’s good fortune kicked off on September 4 in Columbus, where the Crew handed the Dynamo a 2-0 defeat. Granted, the Dynamo have never been all that good at home, but usually they rise in crunch time. Rise they did not at Crew Stadium for the midweek match.
Three days later, two more results went the Revolution’s way. The Crew, who could’ve been breathing down the Revolution’s neck with another win, returned to the pitch to face Sporting Kansas City, and were handed a humbling 3-0 loss. Just as that game was wrapping up, the late-game on saw the Sounders stake a 2-1 win over the Fire, who were only two points behind the Revolution.
The Revolution’s run of luck continued on Sunday, as two more scorelines kept the Revolution above the red line. Prior to the Revolution-Impact match, the Red Bulls obliterated the Dynamo 4-1, and at BBVA Compass Stadium to boot. Although the Revolution came away empty handed from their wild 4-2 loss, the fourth-place Union failed to put any distance on them thanks to a 1-0 loss at San Jose.
Just to be clear: Five contests fell almost exactly the way the Revolution needed them to. Within those five, there were three opportunities to kick the Revolution out of fifth, while the remaining two saw teams that failed to either gain ground or pull away from the local XI. Clearly, the soccer gods smiled upon the Revolution last weekend, even if Sorin Stoica did not.
But the Revolution cannot hold out hope for another fortuitous slew of serendipitous results. For starters, a loss this week sends them below the red line regardless of the out of town scores, while the Philadelphia-Houston game could doom their chances even more. And even though the Impact are riding the momentum of a four-game unbeaten streak going into their clash against Columbus, the Crew have already taken four out of a possible six points from them this season.
Last week, the Revolution relied heavily on luck to keep them. But this week, their destiny is in their own hands. They alone control whether they stay inside the top five or not. And the only luck they can benefit from this weekend is the kind they make themselves.
But before we find out what kind of luck the Revolution encounter or create this weekend, let’s take a look at the questions that face Saturday’s contest in Chicago.
1. Who will start opposite Jose Goncalves? It’s not a stretch to say that A.J. Soares didn’t have his best game ever against the Impact last week. Although a center back’s job is never easy when his team is doomed to 10 men for 85 minutes, Soares was humbled not once, but twice by Marco Di Vaio within a 10-minute span. Making matters worse, those two goals provided the difference needed for Montreal to pull away from Gillette Stadium with a rare road victory. Now, it’s hard to lay the blame squarely on Soares’ inability to close on a world-class player like Di Vaio. Most MLS defenders probably wouldn’t fare well in 1v1 situations with the golden boot frontrunner. But taking into account his performance, the switch in net with Matt Reis suspended, and his ankle sprain, the signs seem to point to Stephen McCarthy returning to the lineup.
2. Could O’Brian Woodbine make his Revolution debut? The 25-year-old has been a busy man since signing with the Revolution nearly two weeks ago. Even before he could step onto the pitch to join his new teammates, Woodbine had to fly to Panama City for a World Cup Qualifier against Panama, a game in which he came on just before halftime. Four days later, he was in Kingston for a last-gasp 1-1 draw to Costa Rica. Although it’s unlikely he’ll get the start on Saturday, it wouldn’t be shocking to see Woodbine come on in the second half, and give the Revolution a dimension that the Fire may not be expecting this week. With the Fire a different team offensively at home, and much improved since the First Kick showdown, the Revolution are going to need as many advantages as they can get in Saturday’s must-win match.
3. Is Bobby Shuttleworth ready to resume his early-season form? It’s hard to say what a benching does to a starter, especially a starting goalkeeper. The last time we saw Shuttleworth start between the sticks, all three Sporting Kansas City shots he faced sailed into the back of the net in a wretched 3-0 loss on August 10. And after Reis was received a fifth minute red card against Montreal, he was tasked with facing two penalties before falling victim to a pair of Di Vaio strikes. Now, with Reis suspended, Shuttleworth faces a team has hasn’t seen since last season. Oh, and it’s a team with one of the league’s best strikers, too. With that in mind, it won’t be an easy night at the office for Shuttleworth. Although there probably won’t be any communication hiccups in the rear, his shot stopping prowess will almost certainly be tested. Knowing the kind of competitor Shuttleworth is, Saturday’s game isn’t so much a challenge as it is an opportunity – an opportunity that Shuttleworth has often parlayed into more minutes.
4. How fresh will the Fire be? It’s pretty easy to tell that Frank Klopas had Saturday’s crucial clash in mind during the Fire’s midweek tilt at Toronto. Dilly Duka and Patrick Nyarko were both spelled before the 70th minute, while Juan Luis Anangono and Daniel Paladini came on late with the game knotted at 1-1. And against a team as unimpressive as Toronto, they didn’t have to do alot of chasing, to be sure. But even so, a midweek contest – even against a team like Toronto – doesn’t often help a team’s form for the weekend match, especially this late into the season. At this juncture, nobody is 100 percent healthy, and the last thing any team needs is schedule congestion. But that doesn’t mean the Revolution automatically have the advantage in terms of fresher legs. Klopas has plenty of weapons at his disposal, and knowing that, the Revolution can’t afford to let off the gas, especially late.
5. What can the Revolution expect from referee Ismail Elfath? After Sunday’s unusual match in which the Revolution saw an early red card and two penalties called against them, all eyes will be trained on Elfath on Saturday. So what do we know about Elfath? Well, he isn’t afraid to issue a yellow, that’s for sure. He’s only one of three referees to average more than four cautions (4.1) in MLS this season, and in his last match (August 30, Columbus-Seattle), he issued three alone to the hosts. So Dimitry Imbongo beware. But perhaps the most interesting stat in comparison to what took place on Sunday: Elfath’s only called one penalty all season, which should allow the Revolution to play a much more physical brand of football inside the area than they did against the Impact. Of course, anything can happen, and in MLS they often do happen. But based upon the evidence, it appears the Revolution won’t have to worry about Saturday’s match turning into a repeat of their 4-2 loss to Montreal.