Hoping to ride the momentum of back-to-back 3-2 victories against Sporting Kansas City (April 23) and D.C. United (April 26 - U.S. Open Cup match), the Revolution (2-2-3, 9 pts.) will head west this weekend to face a stingy Chivas USA (1-2-3, 6 pts.) at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif. on Saturday.
Although the all-time series record between the Revs and Chivas USA is level (5-5-2), the Revs have only beaten the Goats once on the West Coast (a 2-1 win on May 11, 2008) since Chivas entered the league in 2005.
Despite their lack of success against the Goats on the road, New England enters Saturday’s match playing some of its best soccer this season thanks in part to the recently-acquired tandem of Rajko Lekic and Benny Feilhaber. In front of their home crowd for the first time last weekend, Feilhaber assisted on Marko Perovic’s opening goal while Lekic landed the game-winner late against Kansas City. Three days later, with a mix of starters and reserves, the Revs etched another win against D.C. United in their U.S. Open Cup play-in match down in Maryland.
On the opposite end of the pitch, Chivas USA have quietly put together a four-game unbeaten streak and claimed their first victory of the season at San Jose last Saturday. The Goats, who are guided by first-year head coach Robin Fraser, boast an intelligent and stingy defense that has only allowed a pair of goals in their last four matches. But, Chivas has been betrayed by its lethargic attack, as Justin Braun and Alejandro Moreno have struggled to provide the offensive output required for the club to capitalize on its back four’s stout performances.
Facing a stubborn club that will look to find their best chances from the counterattack, the Revs must do the following to find success against Chivas:
1. Dominate the middle of the park. In their victory over Kansas City, the Revs’ revamped midfield showed that they were willing and able to play the passing game. Hold the ball, win the game. They must continue that form against their defensive-minded nemesis in order to open up space against a squad that, while strong in front of its own net, will leak chances when the field opens up.
2. Clean up in the back. Although the attack has sharpened considerably in their last two games, New England’s defense has found itself prone to giving up soft goals. The Goats, who’ll take the goals any way they can get them these days, will likely be looking to challenge the Revs backs and keeper Matt Reis, especially inside the area where the Revs have conceded three penalties already this season.
3. Get the ball to Lekic. After the Danish striker nodded home last weekend’s game-winner, it’s becoming apparent that if his supporting cast can provide good service, Lekic will take care of the rest. And he’ll need to, especially this week with Marko Perovic likely out with a left knee sprain. Of course, it’s a task that will be much easier said than done with rookie standout Zarek Valentin and veteran back Heath Pearce lurking near the Chivas net. But, should Lekic find himself unable to put a few on frame, he’s savvy enough to find an open teammate, which will surely provide the Goats with one of their toughest tests this season.
Key matchup: Lekic against converted center back Heath Pearce. Saturday’s match will be Lekic’s first true test against one of the league’s best defenders. Although Pearce is a natural wing back, he has shined in the center of the Chivas backline and will aim to cut off the head of the Revs attack by canceling out New England’s #10.
Saturday’s match will likely provide an accurate gauge of how much the Revs recent success is real, or whether they’ve been simply picking on weaker teams. Chivas, despite its record, is one of the tougher teams to score goals against, and the Revs will have to be decisive with the ball to break through and find the back of the net.
Brian O'Connell is covering the Revolution for ESPNBoston.com. He is the co-founder of New England Soccer Today (www.nesoccertoday.com), which covers professional soccer within New England. He can be reached at BOConnell21@aol.com.