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Friday, March 8, 2013
Revs open season Saturday at Chicago

By Brian O'Connell

They may be the last horse out of the gate, but following a first-week bye, the New England Revolution (0-0-0, 0 pts.) finally kick off their 2013 campaign against the Chicago Fire (0-1-0, 0 pts.) on Saturday at Toyota Park.

Saturday’s clash, which kicks off at 7:30pm ET, pits the long-time conference rivals on the national stage, as NBC Sports Network will provide the television broadcast. Locally, listeners can catch the action on the airwaves at 98.5 The Sports Hub.

Although the Revs are anxious to get their season underway, the Fire enters the match with a similar mindset -- but for a very different reason.

Last week, Chicago fell victim to the defending champion Los Angeles Galaxy, with an embarrassing 4-0 score line, to boot. It was a game in which nothing went right for Frank Klopas’ club. The revamped central midfield -- featuring former Revolution center half Jeff Larentowicz -- did nothing to thwart the Galaxy at The Home Depot Center. Galaxy striker Mike Magee pulled off a First Kick hat trick, and put heavy pressure on Fire forward pair Maicon Santos and Chris Rolfe to respond. But a response never came, and the Fire suffered the worst loss of Week 1.

While the Fire’s misfortunes might suggest that the Revs have their adversary right where they want them, a quick history lesson should immediately dispel any such assertion. The last time New England knocked on the door at Toyota Park and grabbed a victory, Clint Dempsey and Taylor Twellman were spearheading the attack, putting the date of their last Windy City win at July 8, 2006. While much has changed since that 2-1 triumph (consider that current Revs head coach Jay Heaps started that game at right back), one thing hasn’t: three points at Toyota Park has proven an elusive animal for the past six seasons.

Returning to modern day MLS, the Revolution, much like the Fire, also feature a newly-renovated midfield. European veteran Kalifa Cisse joined the club during the offseason, as did old friend Andy Dorman (who played for the club from 2004-07), and both give the team the veteran savvy it desperately craved last season. Former Swiss League stalwart Jose Goncalves solidifies a backline that leaked through a number of backbreaking goals last season. First overall pick Andrew Farrell is the projected starting right back, and will be counted upon to make a few timely forays into the attack. Perhaps the biggest question mark can be found up top, where the weighty burden of bagging goals belongs to Jerry Bengtson. The Honduran International scores at a prodigious rate for his country, but hasn’t yet translated that success at the club level.

It may be early, but Saturday’s showdown should prove to be an entertaining affair. Chicago will rely on Larentowicz and Joel Lindpere -- who may switch back to the wing -- to keep the Revs on their heels. Meanwhile, the New England defense must stay disciplined, especially without last year’s leading scorer Saer Sene available as he continues his recovery from ACL surgery.

If the Revs can grind it out for 90 minutes and find a way to grab an opportune goal, they’ll stand a chance to steal three points at place that’s been stubbornly unkind to them in recent years. But if they can’t find cohesion inside the defending and middle thirds, then their winless ways in the Windy City will likely continue.