Here is the stretch of the season when the New England Revolution players must combat heavy legs and long flights, little rest and many games.
The Revolution fell to Real Salt Lake, 2-1, Friday night in Sandy, Utah — their fourth straight Major Soccer League loss.
They flew back to Boston on Saturday. A few players, midfielder Kelyn Rowe said, came to Gillette Stadium on Sunday for ice baths and massages.
And after a light training session Monday, the team traveled to Chester, Pa., to play the Philadelphia Union on Tuesday in the quarterfinals of the US Open Cup at 7 p.m. at PPL Park.
Barely 48 hours in Massachusetts and the Revolution are leaving again.
To coach Jay Heaps, though, the swift turnaround provides no excuses.
“We knew it was coming,” Heaps said before Monday’s practice. “We’re prepared for it. We’re going to have a good group ready to go.”
The group, Heaps hinted, could include more regular starters. In the team’s first two games in the Open Cup — a midseason, single-elimination tournament open to all professional and affiliated amateur clubs in the United States — the coach combined lesser-used players with everyday starters, with auspicious results: The Revolution won both matches, against United Soccer League Pro teams, by a goal each.
With the Revolution’s next MLS match coming Saturday at home against the Fire, though, Heaps said there could be more regular starters in the lineup Tuesday.
“You want to stay true to some of [the mixed lineups], but at the same time we do have an extra day before our game on Saturday,” Heaps said. “Two weeks ago, when we played Rochester, we had Wednesday-Saturday, and I think it depleted us a little bit for that Saturday game.”
The Open Cup meeting will be the teams’ fifth this year, including preseason.
“They know us,” Heaps said, “and we know them.”
The teams last met June 28, with the Union winning, 3-1, at Gillette. In that loss, the Union’s first league game under interim coach Jim Curtin, Philadelphia experimented tactically, starting US national team midfielder Maurice Edu at center back. Edu shadowed Lee Nguyen, the Revolution’s shifty distributor and leading scorer, and freed playmaker Cristian Maidana under the lone striker, the imposing Conor Casey.
Heaps said he expects a similar lineup and philosophy Tuesday.
“You’ve got to credit the coach, because those are the same players and he put them in a little bit different position and it worked really well for them,” Heaps said.
Those changes powered Philadelphia to the two-goal win.
“We want to, you know, return the favor,” Rowe said.
To do that, they need to score first. In their last four losses, the Revolution have conceded the first goal; in their two Cup wins, on the other hand, they scored first. At 6-0-0, they are the only team in Major League Soccer with a perfect record when striking first.
“We had slip-ups where we played good the first half, didn’t play well the second half, and vice-versa,” Rowe said. “So we know that nowadays we have to put a full 90 minutes together.”
“That’s where we’ve faltered,” Revolution defender Darrius Barnes said. “[The] beginning of games we just let teams get a rhythm a little bit, then we try to battle back in the second half.”
Barnes said to lessen the burden, the back four must tighten up and maintain its shape, and the whole team can hold the ball for longer spells and recapture the final-ball grace that’s been missing recently. Too often during the losing streak the Revolution have created goal-scoring chances and failed to take them.
“It’s a long season,” he said. “It’s just one of those rough patches in the season that some teams go through here and there. We’ve just got to get back to the basics.”
“If we can get a good result against Philly in the Open Cup,” Barnes said, “I feel like that can carry over into the regular season.”
. . .
The other three Open Cup quarterfinals will be played Wednesday. If the Revolution beat the Union, their semifinal would be Aug. 13 at the winner of the FC Dallas-Carolina RailHawks match.