New England Revolution vs. Philadelphia Union
When: Saturday, 4 p.m.; Where; PPL Park, Chester, Pa.
TV: Comcast SportsNet with play-by-play announcer JP Dellacamera and color analyst Peter Pappas
Houston's 4-0 rout of New England was probably the most eye-opening scoreline of opening day.
The Dynamo scored early and often, splitting apart a Revolution defense that was among the best in MLS last season.
The Revs are Saturday's opponent for what is shaping up to be sunny skies and warm temperatures at PPL Park and Union manager John Hackworth isn't putting too much stock into the lopsided result in Texas.
"I don't think that's reflective of the New England team we know," Hackworth told reporters at his weekly press conference. "We know (Revolution manager) Jay Heaps very well. He has that team prepared and playing and they built that over the last several years. You look at that game and you break it down a little bit and it was an odd result. Playing in Houston is probably one of the most difficult places to play because of the size of the field. The way the stadium is, it throws you off your game in a lot of ways."
New England completed a multi-year overhaul with a successful third place finish in the Eastern Conference last season.
MLS Defender of the Year Jose Goncalves was the linchpin of a backline that pitched 13 shutouts and was tied for third in the league for fewest goals allowed.
Despite early season offensive struggles, the team stayed in contention because of that defense . The Revs served up four straight shutouts from May 18 to June 8, blanking Houston, Toronto, Los Angeles, and D.C. United to climb right into the thick of the playoff race.
All evidence from 2013 suggests the 2014 season opener was an aberration.
"It did (surprise me)," Hackworth said of New England's season opening loss. "But I think you have to give Houston a lot of credit for that. Will Bruin (took his) opportunities really well. They obviously had a couple of miscues on defense. Sometimes you don't get punished for those and in this case they got punished early and often. But I thought they recovered well and had moments in that game where New England played really well and deserved to get a couple of goals back and it just didn't happen for them. That means they're going to be very motivated to come out. I'm sure they're coming out feeling very motivated to prove that they're not the team that we saw last week in Houston."
Historically, Philadelphia has enjoyed a positive record against New England.
But that changed last year when the Revs won two of the three games in the season series.
Philadelphia got first blood, securing a 1-0 home win in sloppy March conditions at PPL Park. Jack McInerney was the hero with a late second half goal.
The Revolution then won both contests at home, shutting down the Union 2-0 in April and winning 5-1 in late August.
New England outscored the Union 7-2 in those three games.
"New England's a good team and I think what they do really well is that their front five has a ton of mobility," Hackworth explained. "It's different with different guys on the field. But you look at some of their attacking players, and they're good. They pop up all over. You have to be a team that understands defensively how to play by zonal principles rather than tracking guys. You can't get caught ball watching. If you do, a team like New England is going to make you pay for those. And we experienced that last year. They've always been a difficult opponent for us to play and I think you're going to see two teams that are very attack-oriented going at it on Saturday."
The offense found an identity last summer, with players like Diego Fagundez, Kelyn Rowe, Lee Nguyen, Juan Agudelo, Dimitry Imbongo, and Saer Sene all playing quality minutes for Heaps.
The Revolution manager found success in the 4-1-4-1 shape, utilizing a very fluid and interchangeable offense built on youth and skill.
They went 4-0-2 to close the regular season and drew Sporting Kansas City in the first round of the playoffs. The Revs won the first leg 2-1, but fell 3-1 at Livestrong Park and lost the series on aggregate to the eventual champions.
"We played them in preseason and they're a solid team," said Union midfield Maurice Edu. "In this league it's funny, because on any given day, anyone can beat anyone. They're coming off a tough defeat, so they're definitely coming out with a point to prove. They want to show that they're a good team. It's about how you respond, and they're going to try to put an impact on this game. It's up to us to try to make our home stadium a fortress, to where teams come in here and they're scared to play us, to make it a situation where teams hate coming here."
Note: Please know that the impending SEPTA strike will not disrupt those that head to PPL Park via public transportation. The regional rail lines that run to Chester Transportation Center will still be on or close to schedule and the Union will provide shuttle service from the depot to PPL Park. Additional questions should be directed to SEPTA's customer service line: (215) 580-7800.
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Contact Union writer Kevin Kinkead at firstname.lastname@example.org