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Thursday, June 9, 2011
Revs at Red Bulls: Three keys for Revs

By Brian O'Connell

On Friday night, the Revolution (3-6-4, 13 pts.) will seek a way to snap their three-game losing streak against a New York Red Bulls (4-2-7, 19 pts.) squad that has gone winless in its last six league matches.

The nationally-televised tilt will be the first of the season between the long-time I-95 rivals. Last season, the teams split their two-game series, with each club securing a home win in the process. On May 29, 2010, the Revs captured a 3-2 win at Gillette Stadium, while New York avenged the loss months later when they claimed a 2-0 win on October 21, 2010 at Red Bull Arena.

Coming into Red Bull Arena, the Revs will attempt to bounce back from their 1-0 loss to FC Dallas last weekend in Frisco, Texas. In a game that saw the Revs midfield melt in the oppressive 97 degree Texas heat, Dallas dictated the game from start to finish and peppered the New England net with seven shots on frame. Matt Reis made a pair of spectacular saves to keep it close, but with few offensive threats on the other end of the field, the Revs walked off the Pizza Hut Pitch without points for the third consecutive game.

Meanwhile, the talent-rich Red Bulls, a preseason favorite to win the MLS Cup, have stumbled badly in recent weeks after starting the season with a 4-1-2 record, thanks in large part to injuries, national team call-ups, and an anemic attack. In last week’s matchup against Columbus, it appeared that New York’s first victory in over a month had arrived as final minutes fell off the clock. But, rookie Crew defender Rich Balchan netted the equalizer in stoppage time to steal a road point for the Crew in the 1-1 draw at Red Bull Arena.

Although the second-place Red Bulls are four spots and six points clear of the Revs in the Eastern Conference standings, the MLS originals are very much alike at the moment. Both teams are win-starved and struggling and both will be eyeing tomorrow’s match as a chance to turn around their respective seasons.

In order for the Revs steal points from their vulnerable foe and stake their first road victory of the season on Friday night, they’ll have to do the following:

Forget the 4-5-1 formation. It’s proven to be a failure, through and through. Rajko Lekic has been lacking service since he signed with the Revs, and it’s clear that he needs a strike partner to find more opportunities in the box, especially with midfielder Benny Feilhaber nursing a sprained ankle. Whether it’s Zack Schilawski, Kheli Dube, or Alan Koger, the Danish striker needs another teammate up top to threaten opposing defenses, as evidenced by the club’s last six lethargic performances.

Keep an eye on Thierry Henry. With Dane Richards, Dwayne DeRosario, and Juan Agudelo out of action due to CONCACAF Gold Cup commitments, it’s obvious that the Revs will have to pay particular attention to Henry, one of the league’s best playmakers. In recent weeks, the former Arsenal and Barcelona star has started to gel with striker Luke Rodgers up top. Rest assured that if the Revs defense snoozes for a second, Henry will seize the opportunity and make them pay dearly.

Test Greg Sutton. On paper, the Revs win the goalkeeper battle so long as Reis remains between the sticks. The Revs are capable of pitching a shutout against the erratic Red Bulls, but one point does them little good going forward. Without having to deal with defenders Tim Ream and Rafa Marquez, both of whom were called up for Gold Cup duty, New England must find ways to pierce the Red Bulls backline and test the veteran keeper, who’s been liable to let through his fair share of garbage goals this season.

On paper, it appears the Revs have the Red Bulls right where they want them: depleted and reeling in the wake of a hard-luck home draw. But, the Revs have obvious woes of their own as they’ve struggled to score all season. If New England has any hopes of taking three points on national television, they’ll have to dust the cobwebs off the attack and score some goals.

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.