New England Soccer Today

Five Questions: Revolution vs. Fire

Revolution left back Chris Tierney is going to be counted upon to thwart Chicago's quick-strike counterattack. (Photo: Chris Aduama/

Five years and 27 days. That’s how long it’s been since the Revolution have won a regular season game against the Fire.

Although it’s easy to recall the days of Steve Ralston and Taylor Twellman battling Justin Mapp and Cuauhtemoc Blanco, let’s not forget one sobering stat: in their last 10 against the Revolution, the Fire own a 7-0-3 record.

Rivalry? Sure – if you preface it with the term “one-sided.”

Even so, Saturday’s match between former conference powerhouses promises a matchup of two remarkably similar teams. Two teams that feature young central defenders. Two teams that haven’t particularly warmed to defensive set pieces. Two teams that both come into it reeling from stunning Open Cup losses.

Granted, they may not be mirror images of each other. But one thing’s for sure: even though the Fire have had the Revolution’s number for years, these teams always play interesting games.

But what other storylines should we consider before Saturday’s game?

1. Are the Revolution center backs ripe for the picking against the twin turbine attack up top? When we last visited the Revolution and Fire together on the pitch, the latter opened up a three goal lead by the half hour mark. Speed? Yeah, you could say the Fire used it to their advantage that day. Although the Revolution’s team defense has steadily improved since last season’s struggles, the Fire are still fast. Remarkably fast. And against a nascent center back pairing, the Fire have to be salivating. That said, look for Kevin Alston and Lee Nguyen to help combat the Fire on the counterattack, an area the Revolution weren’t particularly sharp in last season, either.

2. How will the Revolution hold their shape without Clyde Simms and Ryan Guy? It hasn’t been good to be a defensive midfielder for the Revolution in recent weeks. First, Simms goes down with an ankle injury. Two weeks later, it’s Guy and his bothersome calf. So without their first two choices available, Shalrie Joseph and Benny Feilhaber have to get on the same page early, and stay there for the duration. Both have ideas of getting forward, and knowing when one is pushing ahead and the other is staying back will be crucial to the Revolution’s success on Saturday. Otherwise, we could see a reprisal of the aforementioned 3-2 loss in Chi-town.

3. Can Kelyn Rowe find his preseason form? It wasn’t that long ago that Rowe lit up the preseason and became an automatic starter in the following regular season games. But with only one start in the team’s last five games, this year’s first round pick is itching to find the form that made him a no-brainer when Jay Heaps filled out the lineup card. One thing he can do to stay on Heaps’ radar is rather simple: find the pass rather than firing away from the bunker. Another thing: chip in on the defensive effort, much like he did at Rio Tinto last month. No one can fault the 20-year-old for the mistakes he’s made. But if he can learn from them quickly, he could become an automatic starter sooner rather than later.

4. How will Tuesday’s 120-minute Open Cup marathon affect the Revs? The answer to that will likely arrive around the witching hour, when the likes of Rowe – who went the full two hours – as well as Feilhaber and Nguyen, who both saw significant minutes, may hit the wall. Of course, it could happen even sooner than that, especially for Rowe. In order to save his midfielder’s legs, the emphasis must be on being patient. Houston Dynamo-like, even. There should be no rush whatsoever for the Revolution. Not with a trio of midfielders on less than fresh legs, and certainly not with the Fire’s penchant for outrunning their opponents. Also expect Heaps to use all three subs to help keep his 11 from lagging.

5. Can the Revolution adapt to the Chicago’s unpredictable attack? Yes. But how quickly – or intelligently – they do will be the key to their success. Without Simms there to clean up in the rear or to keep the attack flowing, each player on the pitch – from Matt Reis to Saer Sene – has to be focused. Or as, A.J. Soares would say, they have to turn on the brain. They cannot fall into a false sense of security, with or without the lead. Whatever the Fire are doing, don’t expect them to keep doing it. Instead, anticipate change. Adjust. Expect what you least expect. And so on. If there’s one area the Fire may challenge the Revolution the most, it’s their mental sharpness.

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