FOXBOROUGH, Mass -- It’s fair to say that Kevin Alston knows a thing or two about the challenges he and his Revolution teammates face against the Philadelphia Union at PPL Park on Saturday.
Since the Union joined the league in 2010, the fifth-year defender has met them on the pitch on six different occasions. But his knowledge on the conference rival doesn’t end there.
From 2003 to 2006, Alston was a member U.S. Soccer’s Residency Program and the Under-17 National Team. His coach at the time? Current Philadelphia head coach John Hackworth.
So what is Alston expecting on Saturday from “Coach Hack” and the Union?
“They're full of life and, in matching with Coach Hack's style, they pressure hard all the time,” Alston said. “They’ve got a lot of energy and they're always on you, no matter where you are.”
Dealing with the Union has proven to be tricky for the Revolution over the years. Although both clubs have found limited success over the past three seasons, the Revs are still searching for their first victory against the Union (0-4-3).
In their last trip to PPL Park on Oct. 6, Jack McInerney struck in the 73rd minute to doom the Revs to another defeat. But much has changed for both clubs since last year’s late-season affair.
During the winter, Philadelphia sent All-Star center back Carlos Valdes on loan but re-acquired striker Sebastien LeToux. Meanwhile, the Revs' revamped defense features first-round pick Andrew Farrell and veteran center back Jose Goncalves.
The changes have yielded immediate results for Hackworth and Revolution head coach Jay Heaps. Philadelphia is fresh off a shock 2-1 win in Colorado, while New England beat Chicago, 1-0, for the first time in seven years in last week’s season opener.
New England’s triumph in the Windy City was an encouraging sign for Heaps, but he warned that it was far from a perfect performance.
"It was a good first test,” Heaps said. “We withstood some of the pressure, but there were times when we played ourselves into trouble. That's something we have to get better at (to) make sure that we don't put ourselves in trouble areas.”
One point of emphasis Heaps has stressed this week is playing smart and avoiding the trap of playing into their opponents’ strengths -- something that caught the head coach’s attention while reviewing the game film from last week.
“We played a little bit into what we knew were (Chicago’s) strengths, which (included) a couple of blind balls in the midfield where (Joel) Lindpere, (Chris) Rolfe and Jeff (Larentowicz) are going to step in and win those balls,” Heaps said. “So that was an area where we talked about it, but we still did it on the pitch and that's an area we have to get better.”
If they don’t, count on Michael Farfan and Brian Carroll tipping the field in Philadelphia’s favor. And if that happens, it’s only a matter of time before McInerney -- who’s scored three career goals against New England -- and LeToux set their sights on the New England net.
The way Alston sees it, the key to ending the Revolution’s seven-game winless mark against the Union will depend on how well they cope with their opponents’ propensity to push forward.
“We have to be organized throughout the back,” Alston said. “They have some really crafty players -- players who can just create things out of nothing. So we just have to be aware of that at all times and just know where they are on the field."