There is bound to be a palpable buzz around Gillette Stadium Saturday night when the New England Revolution host Sporting Kansas City. Much of the early excitement will likely be due to Sporting’s stature as the reigning MLS Cup champions, a team which the Revolution pushed to the brink in their Eastern Conference semifinals series in November.
But that buzz could grow into a roar should the squad’s newest member take the pitch.
The game will mark the return of a club legend in Shalrie Joseph, the most-tenured player in team history (2003-2012). The 35-year-old former captain was picked up by the Revolution in Tuesday’s waiver draft, having practiced with the team for nearly a month after the Seattle Sounders bought out his contract in March.
“I’m happy to be back,” Joseph said after his 21-month absence from the Revolution roster came to an end. “I’m happy to be running again and just playing again.
“With me, it’s about trying to be professional and trying to win every game — working hard towards one goal, which is winning a championship.”
Joseph’s experience and leadership could not come at a better time for the Revolution as they face a club that appears to be hitting its stride. Kansas City (3-1-2, 11 points), which is tied for first in the Eastern Conference with Columbus, is fresh off a 4-0 victory over basement-dwelling Montreal.
New England will be looking to snap a six-game winless streak and a 502-minute scoring drought at the hands of Sporting. The streaks loom at an especially difficult time for New England (2-3-2, 8 points), which has tallied only five goals this year.
“For me, they’re the best team in the league,” Revolution coach Jay Heaps said of Sporting. “They literally impose their will on teams and I think that’s pretty impressive in how they do it. We’re up against a tough challenge and hopefully we can bring something to the game.”
The Revolution could face an even bigger battle if last year’s leading scorer, Diego Fagundez, is unable to play the full match. A tight back limited the 19-year-old midfielder to only one half of action in last week’s 1-1 draw in Chicago.
The back line will also be put to the test in the absence of Kevin Alston (suspension) and reigning MLS Defender of the Year Jose Goncalves (right quad). Chris Tierney is expected to slide in at left back in place of Alston, while Andrew Farrell will likely replace Goncalves.
What the Revolution have on their side, however, is their strong play at home to start the season. New England has yet to surrender a goal at Gillette, a streak that the Revolution and newcomer Teal Bunbury intend to continue.
Bunbury, who was traded to New England in February after four years with Kansas City, said he is excited to play his former team. But when the opening whistle sounds, it’s down to business.
“It’s a home game,” said Bunbury. “Our mentality is, ‘We don’t lose at home.’ That’s our mind-set, and I know the guys are going to be excited.”