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Friday, June 17, 2011
Preview: Revs host Fire on Saturday

By Brian O'Connell

Less than 72 hours after their discouraging 0-0 draw to Toronto FC on Wednesday, the Revolution (3-7-5, 14 pts.) will aim to regroup against the Chicago Fire (2-4-8, 14 pts.) in an Eastern Conference showdown Saturday night at Gillette Stadium.

The game will start at 7:30 p.m. and will be televised live on Comcast SportsNet New England. The game will also be broadcast on 98.5 The Sports Hub.

This weekend’s meeting will be the first of the season between the conference foes. Last year, the Fire swept the Revolution during their two-game regular season series, taking 2-1 and 1-0 victories and, in the process, extended their unbeaten streak against the Revs to eight straight.

Despite their recent track record against Chicago, the Revs will undoubtedly be anxious to face the Fire, if only to quickly put Wednesday night’s frustrating affair against Toronto behind them.

In a must-win game against conference competition, the Revs fell flat in frustrating fashion, with much of the blame falling to Rajko Lekic, the Revs much-maligned striker (one goal in 10 games). On three separate occasions, Lekic was presented with quality service inside the box, but each time, Lekic failed to punch it through. Although the Revs, as a whole, looked dangerous on the attack against an indifferent Toronto team, the scoreless draw was clearly viewed as a wasted opportunity inside the Revolution locker room.

While the Revs have had their problems this season, it’s fair to say that the Fire have experienced some sizable stumbles of their own.

The Fire enter Saturday’s match winless in 11 of their last 12, with technical director Frank Klopas taking over the managerial reigns after the club and Carlos de los Cabos parted ways earlier this month. And yet, even with Klopas at the helm, it appeared that an embarrassing 11-game win drought would extend to 12 straight at Columbus last Sunday. That was until Cristian Nazarit stepped up in stoppage time and scored the decider, putting Chicago in the win column for the first time since March 30th. While the win may have mercifully ended the Fire’s run of futility, the club’s faults are far from being fixed.

Given both team's struggles, there’s no denying that both will be battling for maximum points Saturday night, especially in a wide-open Eastern Conference. Here’s what the Revs need to do to put themselves in a position to get those points.

Forget Wednesday’s match. It’s done. Forget about it. The Revs cannot let the memory of Wednesday’s draw linger going into Saturday’s match. Although there were definitely positives -- sound defending, good passing, and inspired attacking -- to be drawn from their performance against Toronto, they cannot let the 0-0 score line shake their confidence against a less than stellar opponent Saturday night.

Stick with the 4-4-2. After it became obvious that the 4-5-1 formation was doing New England’s offensive forays no favors, manager Steve Nicol finally sent out a two-striker formation for the first time this season against Toronto with the hope that the lackluster attack would improve. And it did. The Revs found a number of quality chances in the final third and although they weren’t able to translate their improved form into success on the scoreboard, few could fault the formation.

Stay organized. Despite the fact that goals have been far and few in between this season, one department the Revs have gradually improved upon is their possession. In fact, the Revs attack looked especially sharp in the four-man midfield used on Wednesday, with Shalrie Joseph and Pat Phelan setting the tempo, while Chris Tierney and Sainey Nyassi regularly poked holes in the Toronto defense.

With the mid-point of the MLS season quickly approaching, the Revs cannot continue to allow any more chances for points escape them as easily as they did against Toronto. Like Toronto, Chicago is a very beatable team, and anything less than a victory will be seen as another wasted opportunity for the Revs.

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.