FOXBOROUGH — Saturday night’s game between the red-hot Chicago Fire and the Revolution at Gillette Stadium is shaping up differently than New England’s road win against the Fire back on March 9.
On that rainy Saturday night, coach Jay Heaps’s team grabbed the only goal of the game on a header by forward Jerry Bengtson — now a question mark to even make the Revolution bench — to start the season on a winning note.
But both teams have changed since March, and Heaps knows it.
“They’re a completely different team,” he said. “Chicago has added some really quality players. They’re playing better soccer, too. And we’re a completely different team as well.”
A little over five months after the first meeting, the Revolution sit in seventh place in MLS’ Eastern Conference (8-9-6, 30 points), just 1 point behind the Fire (9-9-4, 31 points).
The difference between the teams in recent months has been Chicago forward Mike Magee. In his 11th MLS season, Magee is tied for the league lead with 14 goals; he has scored eight in 10 games since being traded to Chicago from the Los Angeles Galaxy.
Heaps knows that if the Revolution want any chance of getting 3 points, Magee must be shut down.
“He’s excellent at holding the ball, he finds the gaps, he’s very strong, so it’s not like you can body him up,” said Heaps. “He’s elusive and finds the ball, but then he finds your blind spot, and I think that’s what’s unique about Mike.
“And this year he’s a little bit in the groove. He’ll help build the progression of play, and then he’ll finish off the chance.”
Revolution right back Andrew Farrell has improved since being thrown into action at the beginning of the season. In a 4-1 loss in mid-April against the New York Red Bulls, Farrell had difficulty facing one of the league’s best forwards in Thierry Henry.
However, the rookie out of Louisville has been a strong piece of the team since the beginning of the year. And Farrell’s consistent progression will be key when he matches up against a seasoned veteran.
“[Magee] is a great player, and great players are always going to get their chances, no matter how good a defense is,” Farrell said.
“I think you’ve got to play him tight. You have to limit his chances and not let him get his way. Since they got Magee, they’ve been doing really well.”
Farrell also touched on a point that has been frustrating for Revolution fans. Since winning at home July 6 and pushing themselves into playoff contention, the Revolution have lost four of six — including both home games in that stretch.
“We’ve got to get a win,” Farrell said. “It’s got to be a statement game, especially at home. We’ve got to make this our fort. So we’ve got to get 3 points on Saturday and try to make the playoffs.”
Heaps, too, knows that the Revolution have not been good enough at home. With the potential to climb as high as a tie for fifth place, his team has a chance to make the stretch run a little bit easier.
“I think there’s a collective frustration that we haven’t gotten the points at home that we want to get,” Heaps said. “Our record at home isn’t good enough. We need to take the last six games at home and maximize every opportunity.”