New England Soccer Today

Struggling Rivals Square Off

It’s been a long season for the New England Revolution (4-11-10, 22 points) who find their playoff chances all but gone with nine games remaining. For the Revs closest rivals, the New York Red Bulls (6-6-13, 31 points), the last four months have almost equally as torturous.

When the two sides face off at Gillette Stadium on Saturday night (7:30 p.m., TV: CSNNE) the Revs will be hoping to end a five game winless skid, while the Red Bulls will be looking to end a six game winless run of their own. While for the Revs the playoffs appear too far gone, the Red Bulls are on the verge of slipping out of the postseason picture themselves.

Revs captain Shalrie Joseph knows his team needs to do a better job of keeping the pressure of the defense. (Photo by CHRIS ADUAMA/aduama.com)

And while New England can find ample reasons for their poor season – much of it poor personnel decisions leading to a lack of talent in the squad – New York’s struggles are a bit more puzzling. With international superstars Thierry Henry and Rafa Marquez highlighting the team’s expensive roster, New York was easily the preseason favorite to finish at the top of the Eastern Conference.

Back in April it appeared the Red Bulls would live up to expectations. The club went 4-1-2 in their first seven matches and rode a three game winning streak to the top of the Conference.

But it didn’t last. After the quick start New York has won just two matches in their last 18 games and is running a real risk of missing the playoffs entirely after many expected to see them reach the MLS Cup.

The Red Bulls are in a major slump and nothing seems to be able to stop it. Even a trip to London that saw the team shockingly claim the Emirates Cup after defeating French giants Paris Saint-Germain and drawing English powers Arsenal couldn’t pull the team together enough to pick up a few wins in league play.

Yet on Saturday they face a team in Revolution that has struggled every bit as much to put a winning run together and currently sits just three points out of last place in the overall standings. New England is just as desperate as New York to finally find a win.

Despite having little chance of salvaging their season, the Revs haven’t been content to stand on their laurels. At the start of the month the team added their first ever Designated Player, Argentinean striker Milton Caraglio.

Caraglio has yet to find the back of the net in his first three matches, but has clearly shown his quality and confidence up top despite still struggling to gain match fitness.  And now the Revs have added Moroccan international Monsef Zerka to aid him in the attack, likely as a wide midfielder.

Zerka almost certainly won’t be available this weekend as he awaits the P1 Visa he needs to join the club, so the team will have to make do without him. Striker Rajko Lekic, however, is expected to make his return from injury and could be available to partner Caraglio up top for the first time.

Whether or not that partnership proves successful, the Revs need to do a much better job of keeping possession. Their struggles to keep the ball have been highlighted throughout the season and were quite clear in Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Houston, especially after the Revs took an early lead.

Though the Revs had Houston on the back foot from the opening whistle, that situation was quickly reversed after New England took the early lead.

“I mean, we were second best, especially a big portion of tonight’s game,” said captain Shalrie Joseph. “We allowed them too much time and too much space to play.”

The defense was under far too much pressure because of the midfield’s inability to hold the ball and keep the play in Houston’s end of the field. A similar scenario on Saturday could be deadly against Henry and his strike partner, U.S. International Juan Agudelo.

And this time the Revs won’t have Matt Reis to bail the team out after the veteran goalkeeper earned a red card in a postgame scrum following Wednesday’s match. Bobby Shuttleworth will take his place.

Regardless of how it happens, the Revs – and Red Bulls – need points, whether it’s to keep playoff hopes alive or just avoid finishing at the bottom of the standings. Both teams will see Saturday as a good opportunity to get some.

“We just have to try to hold our heads up and try to be positive for this Saturday,” said Joseph. “I mean it’s still ahead of us in terms of if we want to get to the playoffs. We’re at home this Saturday and there’s not a doubt we have to get three points. The last two games we talked about just getting six points and we’d be right in the thick of it, but we slipped up tonight allowing a late goal like that. So we have to keep our heads up and look forward to Saturday against New York.”

One Comment

  1. rick sewall

    August 20, 2011 at 3:51 pm

    The Revs should concentrate solely on the game, playing solid defense and offense, and ball possession. That is enough to work on. Forget the refs and dont respond to anything verbal or chippy on the part of the Red Bulls. Dont worry about winning, just focus for 90 minutes. If the fans sense that this is going to be your attitude they will really be behind you. It will give you your best chance to win.

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