New England Revolution head coach Steve Nicol will again be without key defenders Joey Franchino and Steve Howey as the Revs head into a crucial match against fourth-place Chicago Fire on Saturday night at Soldier Field.
Franchino is still bothered by a hip strain. The Revolution captain returned to the lineup on Sept. 11 against MetroStars, but he was withdrawn after 37 minutes after aggravating the injury.
After missing the past two matches, the Revolution medical staff expects the experienced left back to miss the next three weeks, putting him in line for a return for the final match of the season against Chicago if all proceeds as planned.
Howey picked up a quad strain last week in training. The Friday injury forced a reshuffle on the backline, as right-sided midfielder Steve Ralston once again shifted to the backline. The injury will keep Howey out for another one to two weeks.
The continued absence of Howey and Franchino means that the Revolution will likely field an unchanged lineup from the starting XI that defeated Colorado 6-1 last Saturday.
After last weekend's victory, Nicol sounded a note of concern over the current status of his rearguard. The pacy Jean Philippe Peguero outraced the Revolution defense on a couple of occasions, and the expected Fire tandem of Damani Ralph and Dipsy Selolwane has similar attributes to cause the Revolution trouble.
"We have to make better decisions on defense," said Nicol. "We have to be careful of players with pace. We have to watch our gambles with our offside traps."
Revolution striker Pat Noonan believes that the Revolution has hit their stride at just the right time.
"It took us entirely too long to get to this point," said Noonan. "It's in our hands from this point onwards."
Midfielder Brian Kamler noted that neither of these sides will have anything to hide.
"We'll take a look at Chicago," said Kamler. "They will take a look at us. These are important games. That's who we are fighting for the last playoff spot. These games will make us or break us."
Kyle McCarthy is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.