FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Injuries and suspensions have increased New England coach Steve Nicol's selection concerns ahead of Sunday's trip to Houston (7 pm ET; Direct Kick/MatchDay Live).
Though Nicol admitted the confirmed absences of at least three regular starters have complicated his side's preparations ahead of the match, he said the lineup alterations will not amend the ultimate objective in Texas.
“It has certainly upset the apple cart, but, like I've said, we've got professionals and we're not going to Houston to do anything but win the game,” Nicol told MLSsoccer.com after the Revolution's training session on Friday morning. “Obviously, we need to be tight. Once we get settled in, we want to go forward.”
It may take a few minutes for the makeshift lineup to settle into the earnest encounter usually waged by these two sides.
Nicol faces his most perplexing quandary in central midfield with Shalrie Joseph and Pat Phelan suspended for the contest. Stephen McCarthy looks assured of his spot, but question marks surround the other two places in the starting XI if Nicol opts to retain his 4-5-1 setup.
Ousmane Dabo represents the only other natural option in consideration, but the match may come too soon for him after he returned to full training this week after a lengthy spell on the sidelines with a right quadriceps strain.
Chris Tierney could also feature in central midfield after playing there a couple of times last season, but his services could be required at left back with Didier Domi sidelined with a left hamstring strain.
“He has just a touch on his hammy,” Nicol said. “I'd be very surprised if he isn't at training next week. He hasn't trained this week, so there's no point [in bringing him to Houston]. It's a long season, but there's no reason why he won't be ready for next week.”
Rajko Lekic, Matt Reis and A.J. Soares will not have to wait until next weekend to feature in Nicol's squad. Lekic could make his MLS debut in some capacity against the Dynamo after the Revolution received his international transfer certificate to complete his transfer from Silkeborg IF on Friday, while Reis looks set to reclaim his place between the sticks after recovering from a right adductor strain. Soares also appears likely to reclaim his place in central defense after serving a one-match in last Saturday's 2-0 home defeat to Real Salt Lake.
Those three additions to the group will only serve to bolster the efforts to extend a five-match unbeaten streak in Houston. New England have picked up four wins in five trips to Robertson Stadium, but Nicol said his team cannot rely on past history to prompt current success.
“At the end of the day, it's a tough place to go,” Nicol said. “We have to be up for it and we have to be competitive. One thing Houston always are is competitive, so we have to be up for that. After that, we have to try and make some chances.”