FOXBOROUGH, Mass -- In many respects, change is the only constant in MLS. And that sentiment rings especially true for Saturday’s Revolution-Fire mid-summer showdown.
Five months removed from their season-opening encounter, Revolution coach Jay Heaps is preparing for a foe that only bears a passing resemblance to the one he saw in March.
“It's a different gameplan (this time around),” Heaps said. “We're playing a little differently as well, and so our strengths have changed. We try and build our gameplan to maximize our strengths and try to take advantage of some of the areas we think we can punish them but, they're a different team.”
Chicago’s transformation from pretender to contender can be traced back to a pair of major trades made in quick succession prior to Memorial Day weekend. On May 23, they re-acquired veteran center back Bakary Soumare, who spent three years in the Windy City (2007-09) from Philadelphia. A day later, goalscorer Mike Magee was added via trade from Los Angeles.
The moves paid immediate dividends. In the weeks following the trade, the Fire went unbeaten in their next five (4-0-1), and started climbing the conference table. After a brief, early-July slide, they resumed their successful ways, and head into Saturday’s contest undefeated in their last four (3-0-1), with a surprising 2-1 victory over the Impact fresh in their minds.
"I think they're hitting their stride and getting the results,” Heaps said. “They're willing some results, meaning that some of the chances they're creating aren't clear cut chances but they're finishing (those chances). To me, that's a sign of a confident team."
While the Fire are going in one direction, the Revolution appear to be on a different path. Though Heaps’ roster has also undergone renovations since the season opener, the Revolution are currently mired in a troubling trend at the moment. Since the midway point, the Revolution are 2-4-0, with home losses to Houston and Toronto serving as particular points of pain.
Making matters worse, the Revolution were blown out 3-0 by a superior Sporting Kansas City side last Saturday. The loss allowed the Fire to steal the sixth spot away from the Revolution, who now sit a point below them in the standings.
With each game growing more important than the last, Revolution midfielder Kelyn Rowe believes that the club has to set the tone early, especially at home, against the surging Fire.
“It’s about getting back into our groove,” Rowe said. “It’s not one individual that’s going to change it, but the team that’s going to do it. It’s one, two touch (passing) in the midfield and up front, the final ball and final finish - but with confidence. It’s the confidence that has gotten us goals.”
That confidence should be in greater supply if Juan Agudelo, who’s missed the last eight games, returns to the pitch on Saturday. Although he probably won’t start, a late-game cameo would be a sight for sore eyes among the Foxborough Faithful.
Another promising development: the recent addition of Charlie Davies, who was acquired last week. Two years removed from an 11-goal season with D.C., the 27-year-old Boston College product is anxious to contribute to the cause after a disappointing spell in Denmark with Randers.
Even though Dimitry Imbongo’s suspension will likely force Heaps to start backup Chad Barrett up top, Rowe believes that the best way the Revolution can put the skids on the Fire’s success -- and conversely, on their own slumping form -- is to stretch Chicago’s defense and capitalize on any chances Barrett, Agudelo or Davies can find as a result.
“We have to get the ball inside and then obviously get it wide for those crosses,” Rowe said. “We need Chris Tierney and Andrew Farrell to get those balls in the box but we have to get it to them first. So, if they put those balls in the box, I believe we’ll finish them.”