New England and Real Salt Lake will approach Saturday's clash of unbeatens at Gillette Stadium (7:30 pm ET, DirectKick, MatchDay Live) with designs on capping their arduous weeks with a positive result.
Both clubs enter the match after undertaking punishing midweek trips to foreign countries. Real Salt Lake carved out a place in the history books on Tuesday night by sealing a 3-2 aggregate victory over Deportivo Saprissa in their CONCACAF Champions League semifinal in Costa Rica, while New England gritted out a last-gasp 1-1 draw in Vancouver on Wednesday.
The taxing travel itineraries – RSL landed in Boston on Wednesday night and trained at Gillette Stadium on Thursday and Friday, while New England returned to the area on Thursday in time for a light practice session on Friday – could impact the proceedings as both clubs fight off the inevitable onset of fatigue.
[inline_node:305236]“We've both had long weeks and we've both traveled long distances,” Revolution defender Darrius Barnes told MLSsoccer.com by phone on Friday. “It'll be a test for both teams to see whether they can come out here and grind out 90 minutes. Hopefully, we'll come out on top.”
New England coach Steve Nicol said he expects that his side will struggle to find its legs a bit given the short turnaround between matches, but he believes an added dose of mental resolve will help his troops overcome their tired bodies.
“There's no doubt that we'll be a little bit weary, but, at the same time, what goes on between your ears drives the rest of your body,” Nicol said. “If we're strong mentally, then we'll be fine.”
Nicol will have to make at least one change to his starting 11 with A.J. Soares set to serve a one-match ban after his second-half dismissal against the Whitecaps. But the seasoned Revolution boss could make further adjustments to inject some energy into his side after the lengthy excursion to British Columbia.
“We'd like to think we have depth,” Nicol said. “[Saturday] will be a great test to see if we have as much depth as we think we have.”
Soares' absence will present Nicol with a choice of two players for one spot in central defense, as Ryan Cochrane is likely to retain his place. Barnes could make his first appearance of the season at center back after starting the season-opening 1-1 draw at Los Angeles as a makeshift right back, but Franco Coria (left hamstring strain) is listed as probable and could feature if he does not suffer an adverse reaction overnight.
The mandatory switch at center back means the Revs will field their fourth different rearguard in five regular-season matches, but Barnes said he and his teammates can sustain their positive defensive record – four goals conceded in four matches – by adhering to Nicol's consistent directives.
“You have to stick with the tactics that the coaches have been preaching for the whole season,” Barnes said. “We have to make sure to keep our shape and get in our positions. It might be different personnel, but if everyone sticks to the tactics that the game plan follows, we'll be OK.”
While Nicol is forced to switch things up at the back, he could opt to make a change in the wide areas to boost the available quality in the attacking third. Marko Perovic (left hamstring strain) appears likely to feature in some capacity after missing the past three matches, though it remains uncertain whether he'll depose either Zak Boggs or Sainey Nyassi from their spot on the flanks.
“Marko is available,” Nicol said. “He trained this morning. If he shows no reaction overnight, hopefully, he'll be an option tomorrow.”
Although Perović looks likely to return to the fold, the news isn't as promising for two other potential stalwarts as the Revs look to halt a run of two straight defeats against the Claret-and-Cobalt. Matt Reis (right adductor strain) will not play for a second consecutive match, while Ousmane Dabo (right quadriceps strain) will likely have to wait yet another week to make his MLS debut as he inches closer to full fitness.