Revived Revolution face Fire team that has finally shown spark
It’s rare for two teams to have simultaneous nine-game winless runs. But for the Revolution and Chicago Fire, that was the late-summer reality for two teams vying for the final playoff spot in MLS’s Eastern Conference.
With their summer skids snapped, the teams will meet for the second and final time this season Saturday night at Gillette Stadium in a game that could cripple the playoff hopes of the losing side.
“This is more than likely going to come down to that last game against Montreal,” said Revolution coach Brad Friedel. “But in saying that, we can’t look too far ahead. We have to stay firmly focused on the next game.”
When Chicago and New England met June 9, they battled to a 1-1 draw in a physical affair, trading second-half goals while fouls and collisions mounted to outweigh skill.
A lot has transpired for both teams since that night.
New England went 0-6-3 from July 7 to Sept. 1, finally snapping its winless streak with a 1-0 win at New York City Sept. 5. That victory also snapped an 11-game winless run on the road.
Chicago, meanwhile, went 0-8-1 from July 7 to Aug. 23.
Since the calendar turned to September, New England has looked reinvigorated and is unbeaten in its last three. With a new resolve and a juggled lineup, the Revolution appear to have found a working system to succeed.
“To be able to pick up a win and a tie on the road is pretty good, especially in this league,” said striker Brian Wright. “We’re hoping to pick up some results and hope to just catch fire and bring us into the playoffs.”
Brian Wright was one of those lineup changes, earning his first two career starts over the last two games. Since being drafted in the first round in 2017, Wright hasn’t seen much playing time, though his role continued to increase under Friedel. This year, the University of Vermont product has turned heads as an impact substitute and now as a starter.
Another key to the turnaround has been improved defending. Since adding Michael Mancienne, the Revolution have been more secure at the back, allowing just three goals over four games.
“We’ve been better on set pieces, better keeping the ball through the run of play defensively,” said defender Jalil Anibaba. “We’re just a little bit more confident, and that’s helping in the minor details of the game.”
After tying with Columbus Aug. 23 to end their losing streak at eight, the Fire went 24 days without playing in an MLS match. But their return signaled a fresh start, with a 4-0 drubbing of Orlando City at home last weekend.
Last year’s Golden Boot winner Nemanja Nikolic looked like his old self, scoring twice on three shots.
Keeper Richard Sanchez put in a solid performance, stopping both shots he faced.
“We’re going to have to be at the top of our game,” Friedel said. “We’re going to have to play high-tempo, and when we have the ball, we’re going to need to attack like we have all season.”
Fire vs. Revolution
■ When, where: Saturday, 7:30 p.m., Gillette Stadium, Foxborough.
■ TV, radio: NBCSB, WBZ-FM (98.5).
■ Coaches: Fire — Veljko Paunovic; Revolution — Brad Friedel.
■ Formations: Fire — 4-2-3-1; Revolution — 4-3-3.
■ Goalkeepers: Fire — Richard Sanchez; Revolution — Brad Knighton.
■ Referee: Joseph Dickerson.
■ Out: Fire — G Patrick McLain (hamstring), D Matt Polster (knee), D Jonathan Campbell (adductor), M Diego Campos (knee), F Luis Solignac (adductor); Revolution — D Chris Tierney (knee).
■ Miscellany: This is the 60th meeting between the teams, with Chicago holding a 26-21-12 edge . . . Chicago has won just three games at New England since 2010, with the most recent victory coming last June . . . New England has committed the most fouls in league play this season (416) while Chicago has been fouled the least (264).