New England Soccer Today

MLS’s best heads to Foxboro

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – The New England Revolution are likely to face their toughest test yet this season on Saturday night as Real Salt Lake heads to Gillette Stadium.

Salt Lake (2-0-0, 6 points) finished second in the overall standings last season, but had stunning league-leading plus-25 goal differential, topping the league in both goals scored (45) and fewest goals allowed (20) while losing just four games all season, another league best. This year they remain the only team with a perfect record, having most recently defeated the star-filled Los Angeles Galaxy 4-1, and are proving to be one of the top, if not the top, teams in the continent after reaching the final of the 2010-11 CONCACAF Champions League.

The Revs have had little success against Real Salt Lake in recent years. (Photo by CHRIS ADUAMA/

While the Revolution are on a nice run of their own (1-0-3, 6 points) and are unbeaten in their first four games – just the second time in team history they’ve done that – they’ve had little success against Salt Lake in recent years. The Revs have beaten Salt Lake just once in the past three years, holding a 1-4-1 record against them in that span including two losses last year. That record also includes two of the Revs all-time worst losses: a 5-0 loss last year and a 6-0 loss in 2009, both in Salt Lake.

Of course New England is not the only team to have struggled against Salt Lake. Across the league teams have had a tough time against the 2009 MLS Cup Champion’s crisp passing, stifling defense and high possession style of play. Despite Salt Lake failing to reach the MLS Cup last season, one could easily make that case that Real has been the dominant team in the league over the past two season.

While Salt Lake’s success has truly been a team effort, a few players have made a name for themselves among the best in the league; perhaps none more so than Argentinean playmaker Javier Morales. Morales, who currently leads his team in both goals and assists with two each after playing just a pair of games, was a preseason pick by many pundits to win league MVP this season. He was a MLS Best XI selection last season while also earning Real’s MVP award.

Morales’ pairing with Kyle Beckerman, Salt Lake’s captain and one of the top two-way midfielders in the league, has proven to be perhaps the best central midfield in all of MLS.

Boosting Real’s attack is their designated player Alvaro Saborio. Saborio lead the team in league play last season with 12 goals and is currently second in the CONCACAF Champions League with eight goals.

Equally strong has been the team’s defense, where goalkeeper Nick Rimando has allowed just one goal in the team’s first two matches while posting a 90.9 save percentage. Last year Rimando finished the season with a 0.67 goals against average. Rimando, who has been playing through a right ankle bone spur, could potentially be rested against the Revolution.

For the most part, however, Salt Lake brings a very healthy, if fatigued, squad to Foxboro this weekend. Everyone should be available for selection, though a few players could be rested after Salt Lake traveled to Costa Rica on Tuesday, wrapping up a 3-2 aggregate win over Deportivo Saprissa in the CONCAF Champions League semifinals.

That’s more than can be said for the Revolution. The Revs, also coming off a midweek match having drawn 1-1 in Vancouver on Wednesday, still have a sizeable list of absences. Goalkeeper Matt Reis will miss his second straight match with a right abductor strain, while French midfielder Ousmane Dabo will likely continue to be sidelined with a right quadriceps strain. Joining them off the pitch for the first time will be rookie A.J. Soares, who has started every match for the Revs at center back, but picked up a red card on Wednesday, leaving him suspended for Saturday’s match.

The news isn’t all bleak for the Revolution, however, as attacking midfielder Marko Perovic (left hamstring strain) and center back Franco Coria (left hamstring strain) could both make their returns from injury. Perovic would provide a much needed spark to a Revolution attack that has appeared stagnant in his absence, while Coria’s return would add strength to the Revolution backline.

Regardless of who plays, the onus will be on the Revs central midfield of Shalrie Joseph, Stephen McCarthy and Pat Phelan to break up Salt Lake’s possession and stop Morales, Beckerman and potentially former Rev Andy Williams from springing dangerous attacks from the midfield. That matchup could prove the key to the game and if the Revs can somehow manage to get the better of one of the league’s top midfields, victory will not be out of the question.

The match is set to kick off at 7:30 p.m.  and can be seen live on Comcast Sports Net New England. Additionally, the action can be followed right here on New England Soccer Today’s live blog.

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