One of Steve Nicol's common complaints when asked why his side has, thus far this season, failed to hit the heights it scaled in 2005, has been its failure to consistently maintain possession. Given that, it is not surprising that, for Sunday's home opener against the Chicago Fire, the New England Revolution coach is leaning towards recalling the most gifted player he has in this department: Jose Cancela.
"All we want is Pepe to do what he did last week, consistently," said Nicol of the enigmatic Uruguayan. "He gives you a wee bit of individuality, shall we say. He's capable of doing things that others are not. If you are playing against Pepe then you are not 100% what you're getting against you, that's the extra individual thing that he has."
A firm favorite amongst Revs fans, Cancela has struggled to hold down a regular starting spot in the Revs lineup over the last year. The emergence of Clint Dempsey as an offensive midfielder, coupled with Nicol's preference for two men -- Shalrie Joseph and Daniel Hernandez -- in the middle of the field, whose first priority is the protection of the defense, has limited opportunities for Cancela largely to late game cameos off the substitute's bench, a role he filled with inspirational qualities in last season's post season.
With Marshall Leonard out for the season, Steve Ralston a major doubt and Joe Franchino and Pat Noonan also questionable on Sunday, Nicol appears set to give Cancela the chance to prove he is capable of a sustained run in the side. Ironically, though it was not designed for him specifically, the Revs' new 3-4-3 formation, which has proved difficult for the side so far, appears to be suited to Cancela, who will likely line up alongside Dempsey behind Taylor Twellman, in what Nicol admits will be a big test for his side.
"We know it's going to be nothing less than a tough game," said Nicol on Friday. "[The Fire] are always tough to play against, whether it is here or at their place. I'm not expecting too many changes from them. We're looking to put some pressure on them."
The last time the two sides met was in the Eastern Conference Championship game last November. The game was won by a fourth-minute Dempsey goal but is best remembered for a melee at its conclusion featuring players from both sides. However, despite a rapidly growing rivalry between the Revolution and Fire, Nicol is certain that there will be no backlash from past events this time.
"Not at all. We've played Chicago in big games for three years on the trot, whether it's the last game of the season to qualify or the conference final. For me, these things don't linger through to the following season. We see enough of each other for that not to happen and I don't expect there to be any spill over. I expect two teams to be committed to winning a league match."
The message emanating from Revolution camp over the past two weeks has been 'don't panic' and Nicol was championing the same cause Friday. Pleased to be at home after opening the season on the road, the Revolution boss was keen to point out that, despite his side's slow start and injury problems, it remains on the right track.
"We try and keep it the same," Nicol said. "We don't want to be too clever. It's hard enough trying to play to the best of your ability without complicating things week in, week out. We will try to keep to the same formula.
"We can't be looking for excuses about injuries or anything else. We've shown, whether we've got injuries or not, that we can put teams under pressure and we have to go out on Sunday and do that. If we can do it away, we can certainly do it at home."
Andrew Hush is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.