A familiar face returns to Gillette Stadium on Saturday as the New England Revolution (7-10-2, 23 points) get set for a conference clash against Michael Parkhust and the Columbus Crew (5-7-8, 23 points). Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.
It will be the first time Parkhurst, who played for the Revolution from 2005 to 2008, will face his former club. During his four years in New England, the Providence, R.I., native was named 2005 Rookie of the Year and 2007 MLS Defender of the Year.
The Revolution enter the match a frustrated bunch after dropping seven straight, a streak that stretches back to late-May. Their most recent loss came at the hands of FC Dallas, who beat the local XI 2-0 last Saturday at FC Dallas Stadium.
Similarly, the Crew’s season has hit the rocks in recent weeks. Although they claimed a 2-1 win over the Impact last Saturday at Crew Stadium, it was their first victory in eight tries going back to mid-May.
Meanwhile, coach Gregg Berhalter was afforded the opportunity to test his team’s depth in Wednesday’s 2-2 draw to EPL side Crystal Palace.
With both sides looking to put their struggles behind them, here’s what to watch for on Saturday:
Can Revs contain Higuain? It’s no secret that the best way to diffuse the Crew offense is to take Federico Higuain out of the picture. Of course, doing so is easier said than done. The creative Argentine is one of the league’s most technical players. What’s more, his uncanny knack for playing the right pass on a regular basis allows teammates like Ethan Finley (4 goals, 2 assists) and Bernardo Anor (4 goals, 14 shots on goal) to do some of the heavy lifting in the final third.
“Higuain is always an important player for what they’re doing,” coach Jay Heaps said earlier this week. “He’s in a nice elusive role underneath their striker.”
Once again, who starts at holding midfielder? For the fourth time in less than a month, uncertainty surrounds the six spot. Last week, Scott Caldwell filled the void while A.J. Soares served his red-card suspension. But earlier this week, Heaps hinted that the opponent’s strengths will dictate who starts from game to game. Given the need to stop Higuain, Heaps might be tempted to go with the grittier Soares over the creatively-inclined Caldwell this week.
Execution in final third must improve. It’s not for lack of chances that the Revolution attack has sputtered in recent weeks. The team ranks second in the conference in total shots per game (14) and shots on target (4.8). Clearly, creating the opportunity isn’t the issue. What’s plaguing the Revolution is their startling inability to beat the opposing keeper, as their scant 0.43 goals/game average would indicate.
“We have to finish,” Revolution forward Charlie Davies said earlier this week. “We have to be more effective and efficient, but it’s there. We proved it in the beginning of the season, and I think that at the end of the year, all this pain and agony of the past seven games will really help us for the playoff push.”
Will Davies get another start up top? In response to a dreadful performance in a 5-1 loss to the Galaxy, Heaps made a number of changes to his lineup last Saturday. The most notable: starting the rarely-used Davies up top. Although the offense as a whole continued to struggle in the 2-0 loss, the forward’s individual performance was promising. He drew a team-high three fouls and connected on 92 percent of his passes. But whether those numbers are enough to warrant a second start remains to be seen.
Home cooking the remedy? No one would call the Revolution’s recent two-game road trip a leisurely excursion. As if a cross-country flight to Los Angeles for a midweek match against the streaking Galaxy wasn’t tough enough, the Revolution went right back to airport to face FC Dallas three days later. Although travel shouldn’t be used as an excuse for getting outscored 7-1 during the trip, Revolution defender Darrius Barnes is embracing the opportunity to use a week’s rest and home-field advantage to jump-start the club on Saturday.
“I feel like there’s no better place to snap that losing streak than to come home and do it,” Barnes told revolutionsoccer.net on Thursday. “I think the team’s spirits are still high. Even though we’re a little more than halfway through the season, and we’re not playing the way we want to, we’re in a decent spot in the table.”