It’s not outside the realm to believe that the New England Revolution have never been more anxious to set foot on the pitch at PPL Park. Fortunately for them, they won’t have to wait much longer.
Following the 4-0 loss they took at the hands of the Houston Dynamo last week, the Revolution are eager to put that performance behind them when they face the Philadelphia Union on Saturday in Chester, Pa.
Kickoff is set for 4:00 p.m. ET, and will be the first of three contests the conference rivals will play this season.
Here’s what to watch for in Saturday’s clash in the Keystone State:
Putting last week in the distance: It’s hard to imagine a more nightmarish start than the one launched by the Revolution in Houston last weekend. Three goals fell into the Revolution net within the first 23 minutes, with the result essentially decided midway through the first half. The Revolution did find their fair share of opportunities before halftime and in the second half to make it a competitive match. On the whole, though, it appeared the culprit on both ends of the pitch was the team’s inability to execute, something that Revolution coach Jay Heaps hopes his players can put behind them this week.
“There’s a lot that we went over on the film, (and) areas of improvement,” Heaps said. “There really wasn’t one area that didn’t need improvement, but we’re on to (Philadelphia) now.”
Setting the tone: No one will claim that PPL Park is an easy place for an opponent to play. And one such opponent who’s found the Union’s home grounds particularly unfriendly is the Revolution, who’ve never won in the shadow of the Commodore Barry Bridge, which looms breathtakingly close to the stadium. That said, there’s no time like the present. The Revolution must find a way to cast aside the past, and put the Union on their heels early. That doesn’t necessarily mean finding a quick score, but rather, they need to establish a comfortable rhythm, which should allow them every opportunity to put their five-game winless streak at PPL Park out to pasture.
Thwarting a dynamic and dangerous Union midfield: Make no mistake, the Union squad the Revolution face on Saturday is not the same one that coughed up five goals in Foxborough last August. Philadelphia undertook significant renovations to its midfield, adding a trio of talented players in Maurice Edu, Vincent Nogueira and Cristian Maidana. And with Jack McInerney, a thorn in the Revolution’s side over the last three season, still lurking on set pieces, the Revolution know they’ll have to find ways neutralize the Union in the middle of the park.
“Philly’s a different team,” Heaps said. “They’ve changed their entire midfield, basically, and their top line. So they’ve got some changes. We went over the film and we’ll continue to go over the film and try to learn how to stop them.”
Gentlemen, start your engines: Pace and quick movement have long been trademarks of John Hackworth-coached sides, and that certainly remains true even after all the changes the Union undertook during the offseason. They came out to a flying start in Portland last week, and used their high-tempo approach to score the opener from McInerney in the 64th minute. And that was on the road, in one of the most hostile environments (Providence Park) in MLS. To match wits with Philadelphia at their home park, the Revolution must bring the same intensity -- if not more -- in order to tip the odds in their favor on Saturday.
Finish, finish and finish: If there’s one thing the Revolution can’t afford to do against the Union, it’s letting chances go to waste. Last week, New England collected a healthy dose of shots (18), but had nothing to show for it, save for a pair of efforts that smacked the iron. Conversely, the Union recorded a respectable 10 total shots in Portland, and not only scored, but put the majority (six) of them on frame. In light of that, players like Diego Fagundez, Teal Bunbury and Kelyn Rowe have to be sharper than they were last week.
“Going forward, it’s going to be who finishes their chances,” Fagundez said about Saturday’s match. “If we get chances, we just need to finish them so we can finish the game early.”