No manager in MLS seems to do more with less than New England's Steve Nicol. Nicol continues to find solid and productive players while working within Robert Kraft's stringent budget. The style of play isn't exactly pretty but it seems to be effective for the Revs. Despite various injuries and no major player signings the Revs are competitive as a result of a recent run of good form.
New England is undefeated in their last four MLS matches and have advanced to the SuperLiga final against Monarcas Morelia on September 1. After being trounced by Real Salt Lake 5-0 on July 2, they have defeated Los Angeles, tied Philadelphia, and beat DC and Houston. The last two teams have been downright dreadful but three points is three points any way you count them.
Marco Perovic has been solid and Nicol has added another Serbian attacker in 31 year old Ilija Stolica. The new addition quickly provided dividends after scoring a beauty of a game winning goal this past weekend against Houston. Their leading goal scorer, rookie Zack Schilawski is now a bench option up front along with Kenny Mansally.
The tandem of Shalrie Joseph and Pat Phelan has started the last three matches in central midfield. The local annouce team dubbed them the new "Dread and Red" after the previously named combination of Joseph and Larentowicz. Sainey Nyassi at right mid provides the only real speed threat among the New England attackers. Khano Smith has started the last two matches at left mid, a position where Nicol has yet to find a consistent starter either due to injury or effectiveness. Rookie Jason Griffiths started two matches before missing time with a hamstring injury and Chris Tierney has bounced all over the pitch for the Revs.
Tierney has started the last two matches at right back in place of injured starter Kevin Alston who is now available but listed as questionable. Emmanuel Osei and Darius Barnes are the center backs. Cory Gibbs is soild at left back.
The bench features a new addition in former Chicago Storm player Roberto Linck and is pretty thin due to the long list of wounded Revs.
The Fire defeated New England 1-0 back in June while New England was struggling mightily. This time the match up with Freddie Ljungberg should be a challenge for Shalrie Joseph, particularly if Nery Castillo is fit enough to see considerable playing time. Gonzalo Segares is also making his 2010 debut with the Fire in place in of Krzyzstof Krol at left back.
I suspect we'll see the midfield combination of Pappa, Banner, Pause, and Husidic featuring Ljungberg behind McBride with Castillo coming on as a second half substitution. Carlos De Los Cobos has not ruled out starting Castillo but another mtach three days later in Houston may keep him from a start until he works his way into full fitness. Calen Carr has also been mentioned as a starting possibility in the event that Castillo does not start.
The Revolution game plan will attempt to slow down the match in a physical struggle while hoping to catch a counter or cash in on a set piece from Perovic or Stolica. It won't be pretty but if the Fire can score early things should open up since New England cannot afford to fall further out of the playoff chase. They currently sit tied on 21 points with the Fire, but they have played two less games.
The Revs are not a team that boasts much pace and the match up with the Fire should be a difficult one even without Patrick Nyarko. The Fire unsuccessfully attempted to play a 4-4-2 formation with McBride and John up top in the second half of a listless 1-0 loss to New England in SuperLiga play last month. The combination was not a difficult one for New England to defend and the story should be different this time out.
New England has been awful on the road in MLS play going 1-6-1. Their only win came on April 3 in DC (2-0).
The Fire will dent Matt Reis' goal twice and Sean Johnson will continue his impressive play in goal for Chicago.
Fire 2 Revolution 0
CHICAGO FIRE -- DOUBTFUL: MF John Thorrington (L quad strain); PROBABLE: FW Patrick Nyarko (headaches)
NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION -- OUT: GK Preston Burpo (R leg fracture); FW Kheli Dube (R MCL sprain); FW Edgaras Jankauskas (L adductor strain); FW Taylor Twellman (concussion); QUESTIONABLE: DF Kevin Alston (L hamstring strain); FW Zak Boggs (concussion); MF Nico Colaluca (R ankle sprain); PROBABLE: MF Jason Griffiths (L hamstring strain); MF Marko Perovic (L gastroc strain)