SEATTLE – Playing at Qwest Field presents a unique set of challenges for the visiting team. The Sounders pack their venue with rabid fans who give the team their full-throated support for 90 minutes. The home side often follows suit, pressing forward in search of goals and pushing their opposition onto their heels. The task, in short, is particularly formidable, even against a struggling Seattle squad.
In order to cope with these challenges on Saturday night, New England defender Cory Gibbs said he believes the Revolution will have to display the same intensity they showed in last Saturday's 3-2 victory over New York if they are to leave Qwest Field with a positive result.
“We have to go out and play with enthusiasm --like we did last game--, especially coming into Seattle with the type of crowd and environment they have and the team that they have,” Gibbs told MLSsoccer. “It's important for us. It's the last game before the break. We just need to go out there and give it our all.”
Gibbs will lead by example as he returns to his usual role in central defense after missing the win over the Red Bulls with a right hamstring strain. His presence should help solidify the back four in front of the goalkeeper.
That goalkeeper will most likely be Bobby Shuttleworth, who made his first MLS appearance against New York as a substitute and will almost certainly make his first MLS start against Seattle with Preston Burpo placed on the season-ending injury list and Matt Reis not yet ready for first-team action.
“It's exciting for me,” Shuttleworth said. “Last Saturday was probably the most people I've ever played in front of. It's going to be exciting and it's going to be quite a place to make my [starting] debut.”
While Gibbs and Shuttleworth are all but assured of their spots, other players could force changes to the starting lineup of a team plagued by injuries.
Kheli Dube's right hamstring strain could create a vacancy for either Edgaras Jankauskas or Kenny Mansally up top. And Emmanuel Osei, who returned to training after missing five weeks with a leg infection, could press for a recall, but his claims for a spot may be hampered by his lack of recent match practice.
“We don't know how fit he is at this point,” Nicol said after his side went through an hour-long training session in Seattle on Friday. “He's had three days' training. He's always in decent neck anyways, but the fact that we're unsure where he is…makes it difficult to throw him in.”
Making changes and shunting players into different spots is nothing new for New England. A rash of injuries over the past few months has forced Nicol to chop and change his lineup and deploy players in unfamiliar spots. But with several players returning to health, those changes may not be required as frequently after the World Cup break.
“Maybe people don't realize that one injury doesn't just change that one spot,” said forward Zach Schilawski. “Sometimes, you have to move tactically to change formations or put players in different spots. It affects 11 different players at 11 different positions. It's been a tough stretch for a lot of different reasons, but I think, right now, we're feeling good. We're training well and we got a win last week, so I think we're confident going into this game.”
Keeping that confidence will require entering the World Cup interlude with a second consecutive points outing. Nicol said his side needs to continue its improvement in possession and rise to the occasion in order to secure a victory.
“We've got to sort out what we do,” Nicol said. “If we're better with the ball, we'll give any team a hard time, whether it's home or away. [Seattle] will be up for it. The crowd will be up for it. We just have to make sure we're up for it as well.”