Philadelphia Union will look to snap a six-match winless streak that dates back to July 17 when they take on the New England Revolution Saturday at Gillette Stadium. The Union’s first trip to Foxborough will be a statement game, with the club coming off a 2-0 loss to D.C. United that Manager Peter Nowak deemed the club’s worst performance of the season. In the last meeting between the two sides, a 1-1 draw, Sebastien Le Toux’s wonder-strike was cancelled out by Marko Perović’s 71st minute equalizer, a free kick from distance that took a fluky bounce over goalkeeper Chris Seitz.
The Revolution return home after a road trip that featured back-to-back losses in Chicago and Kansas City, including a 4-1 drubbing against the Wizards on Saturday. Sitting in sixth place in the Eastern Conference with 21 points, New England currently hold a four point advantage over the expansion Union, both having played two-thirds of their 30-match MLS schedule.
After a run of four league matches in which the Revolution took 10 out of a possible 12 points, Steve Nicol’s side is now seven points shy of the final playoff spot following their two-match losing streak. Prior to the setback, the Revs had gone unbeaten in eight matches in all competitions, posting six shutouts and conceding no more than a lone goal in any contest.
New England has been strong at home this season, posting a 5-3-2 record in MLS matches, which will make Philadelphia’s task of reversing their road fortunes a difficult one. The Revolution have not lost a home match since a 1-0 defeat to the Chicago Fire on June 27, and the Union have won only one match away from home all season on their way to a 1-9-1 road record. While not overly uncommon -- six clubs, including New England, have only won away from home once this season -- all eight of the teams currently slotting into playoff positions have won at least three matches away from home.
With 10 games remaining, the Revs are in danger of missing out on the playoffs for the first time since 2001 and for the first time since Nicol took over in 2002. With 11 losses, New England have already lost more games than in any of the previous five seasons. Scoring hasn’t been the issue, at least of late, as the club has scored one goal or more in each of their last 10 matches in all competitions, including a season-high six straight MLS matches.
The Union had a goal-scoring streak of their own prior to Sunday’s loss, having tallied at least once in nine straight MLS matches dating back to June 10. The club's defense has let them down more than anything else, but it’s hard to target any stretch of matches that troubles Philadelphia in particular. The Union have allowed 18 goals in both the first and second half this season, but an inability to string together 90 minutes of disciplined, mistake-free defending has been the club’s downfall in their inaugural season.
If the Union can stiffen in the back and muster three points Saturday, they’ll have a golden opportunity to right the proverbial ship, with six out of the following eight matches being played at PPL Park.
Matchups to Watch:
The Revolution's banged-up backline vs the Union attack
While Sunday’s debacle was discouraging for the Union’s offense, it doesn’t erase a season’s worth of aggressive and cohesive attacking play. Finishing promising build-ups still remains an issue for Philadelphia, but the groundwork is firmly in place for the club to become one of the most consistently dangerous offensive-minded sides in MLS. With Le Toux and Danny Mwanga leading the way, the Union are still in the process of integrating recent signees Justin Mapp, Eduardo Coudet, both of whom have shown the capacity to be key contributors. With Alejandro Moreno listed as questionable heading into Saturday’s Eastern Conference tilt, Mapp’s odds of featuring in a starting role are increased, as the winger came on when the veteran forward exited in the 16th minute.
The Union attack won’t have an easy go of it against the Revolution, a club that had been exceedingly stingy over an eight-match stretch up until their last two matches. They’ll be helped by injuries to Matt Reis (doubtful) and Kevin Alston (questionable), both of whom are likely to miss Saturday’s match according to the Revs’ MLSsoccer.com beat writer Kyle McCarthy. After returning from offseason surgeries, Reis had allowed just two goals in seven matches in all competitions this season. With second-string ‘keeper Preston Burpo already ruled out, Reis is expected to be replaced by Bobby Shuttleworth, who hasn’t lost in two appearances this year but has been readily penetrable, as evidenced by his 2.55 GAA.
As a club, the Revs posted six shutouts during their recent undefeated run -- five of which came with Reis in goal -- with only two goals against during the same eight-match span. Since Reis’ return in late-June, the four-time MLS Cup runners-up are 6-4-2 in all competitions, proving the veteran’s worth and ability to organize New England’s backline. Without him, the Union’s odds of breaking through on the road -- where they’ve averaged 0.83 goals per game on the season – are greatly increased.
Ilija Stolica and Marko Perović vs the Union’s shutout-less streak
With rookie Zack Schilawski -- who is tied with Perović for the club lead with five goals -- relegated to the bench in the last three matches, New England’s new strike partnership of Stolica and Perović will lead the effort to extend Philadelphia’s undesirable run of 20 straight matches without a clean sheet. Perović is probable with a plantar fasciitis injury, but the Union will have to watch the Serbian attacker closely if he features on Saturday. The 26-year-old has seven goals and one assist in 20 appearances in all competitions with the club.
Fellow serb Stolica has shown his class since signing with New England on July 30, including notching the game-winner against Houston in his first start. Coming to MLS from Montenegro’s FC Budocnost, Stolica played the 2005-2008 seasons in Belgium at Sint Truidense and R.A.E.C. Mons before playing the second half of the 2008-09 season at OFI Crete of Greece.
The 31-year-old’s finishing ability and instincts in the attacking third will test the Union’s backline, but Philadelphia have shown promising signs of capturing a clean sheet, having only given up more than two goals on one occasion in the last 18 matches. A shutout on Saturday would go a long way towards securing three points and a heavy dose of confidence heading into the season’s stretch run.
Last Match Highlights
Philadelphia Union Injury Report
OUT: MF Shea Salinas (L fibula fracture)
QUESTIONABLE: FW Alejandro Moreno (R hamstring strain)
New England Revolution Injury Report
OUT: GK Preston Burpo (R leg fracture); FW Taylor Twellman (concussion)
DOUBTFUL: MF Jason Griffiths (L hamstring strain); FW Edgaras Jankauskas (L adductor strain); GK Matt Reis (lower back pain)
QUESTIONABLE: DF Kevin Alston (L hamstring strain); FW Zak Boggs (concussion); MF Nico Colaluca (R ankle sprain)
PROBABLE: DF Cory Gibbs (L ankle sprain); FW Kheli Dube (R knee MCL sprain); MF Marko Perovic (L foot plantar fascitis)
Date: Saturday, August 28, 2010
Time: 7:30pm ET
Location: Gillette Stadium (Foxborough, MA)
Television: 6abc/MyNetwork TV – WQMY
Talent: JP Dellacamera (Play-by-Play); Kyle Martino (Color Analyst)
Referee: Hilario Grajeda; SAR (bench): Greg Barkey; JAR (opposite): Daniel Belleau; 4th: Chris Penso