FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The New England Revolution are in a slump. And when you’re slumping, you’ll clutch to any bit of positivity or good news as a lifeline.
In New England’s case, they hope to use their first-half performance against Manchester United as a springboard to end their eight-match winless streak against Philadelphia on Sunday night (7 pm ET, watch LIVE online).
United enjoyed plenty of the ball in the first half in their 4-1 victory on Wednesday to start off the Herbalife World Football Challenge in style, but the Revs carved out a chance or two at the other end and kept the Premier League title-holders off the scoreboard until prudence forced Revs head man Steve Nicol into wholesale changes at halftime.
“We're pretty happy with the way [we played in that first half],” Nicol told MLSsoccer.com on Friday. “We certainly kept a good shape and contained them well. Hopefully, we'll take that into Sunday.”
It will take more than a decent shape to unlock a Union side that has conceded just 10 goals in nine road matches so far this season. Nicol harped on the need for his side to retain possession and use it to good effect in the attacking third, while Revolution midfielder Pat Phelan said his side should learn from its work against United in midweek to bolster its efforts against the Union.
“I think we were patient at times,” Phelan said. “I think we have a little bit more time on the ball than we actually think we do. When we take that time and play good balls and play good passes to each other, slow things down and work it around, we make it a lot easier for ourselves and we create decent chances against quality opposition.”
Philadelphia certainly fall into that category given their current perch atop the Eastern Conference. Peter Nowak's side has posted two shutouts in its past three road games and usually prefers a modest and pragmatic approach away from PPL Park.
With the Union likely to sit back and wait for an opportunity to strike on the counter, the Revs must guard against untimely mistakes that could prompt the visitors to employ their dynamic attacking pieces.
“That's always the case,” Revolution goalkeeper Matt Reis said. “They've definitely changed their mind set to defense-first and, obviously, that's what we're trying to do also. It's the same thing we were trying to do in the Manchester United game. If we get into good spots defensively and if we limit their chances — which we've done [against most teams] so far this year — we'll give ourselves a chance.”
Reis and his teammates will have to cope without the services of suspended duo Ryan Cochrane and Shalrie Joseph for the match. Franco Coria looks set to replace Cochrane in central defense, while Nicol is currently weighing several options as he attempts to plug the significant vacancy left by Joseph's absence.
Nicol must also cope without the services of French duo Ousmane Dabo and Didier Domi. Dabo will miss out on the match after picking up a knee injury against United, while Domi was released from his contract with the Revolution on Friday afternoon.
Those blows — particularly the omission of club captain Joseph — may make the task a bit harder, but the Revs know they must somehow build off of their performance against Man. United to avoid matching the longest winless streak in club history (nine games in 1998) and secure the required victory.
“We need to score goals,” Revolution midfielder Kenny Mansally said. “Sunday is a big game for us. I think we need those three points to get back on track. We know where we stand. We need those three points.”