FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – New England coach Steve Nicol has heard the news about Landon Donovan and his potentially restful weekend in Los Angeles.
But he just isn't sure he believes the reports ahead of Saturday night's clash between the Revolution and the Galaxy at Gillette Stadium.
“Every time we've played them, someone has told us Donovan isn't playing,” Nicol told MLSsoccer.com on Friday. “This is no different. Every time they've told us he's not playing, he plays. So I bet he'll be playing [Saturday].”
The situation may not unfold exactly as Nicol suggests, but Donovan's absence or presence will not alter the danger posed to the Revs by the league-leading Galaxy, according to New England midfielder Chris Tierney.
“It doesn't matter,” Tierney said. “They have quality players no matter what. Whoever plays if Landon doesn't is a guy who is capable of hurting us. Landon's obviously a great player, and, if he does come, we'll obviously be aware of that and make adjustments. If he doesn't, we'll just get on with it.”
Ignoring the questions surrounding Donovan and the Galaxy may prove the best course for the struggling Revs after last Friday's 5-0 loss at Real Salt Lake. New England has plenty of problems of their own to rectify.
From back to front, the concerns continue for the Revolution. New England haven't scored in five of their past six matches, haven’t kept possession well in midfield for far longer than that relatively brief period and haven’t eliminated the simple mistakes at the back necessary to provide the required foundation for growth in other areas.
The focus this week falls primarily on shoring up the defensive efforts after the heavy defeat at Rio Tinto Stadium. With goals at a premium, New England must reduce their liabilities in their defensive third to harbor serious aspirations of obtaining results.
Nicol said the road to defensive improvement starts with better positioning. Persistent lineup shuffling has played a part in the defensive infirmity, but Nicol said he believes his side needs to consistently locate the proper starting points in order to stop leaking goals.
“It's about getting in the right spots,” Nicol said. “To be honest, that's the biggest thing. If you're in the right spots, you can do what you can do. If it's not good enough, then that's fine. If you're not in the right spot because you're not thinking about it properly, then that's a big problem.”
Injury issues will force Nicol to make at least one change to his starting lineup. Cory Gibbs picked up a left quadriceps strain in training this week and will not play against the Galaxy, according to Nicol.
Gibbs' injury paves the way for Darrius Barnes to earn a recall after recovering from a foot injury suffered in a 3-2 defeat to Columbus on May 8. Although Barnes hasn't faced live action in two months, Nicol said he expected his second-year defender to rise to the occasion.
“It's tough,” Nicol said. “He's been out for six weeks. It won't be a piece of cake for him, but I'm sure he's up for it and he'll handle it fine.”
Barnes' return represents a rare bright spot in New England's continuing injury quagmire. Steve Ralston will have to wait at least another weekend before making his season debut as he continues to recover from a dislocated left elbow. Zak Boggs (concussion), Nico Colaluca (right ankle sprain) and Edgaras Jankauskas (left adductor strain) will also miss the Galaxy's visit.
Despite the absences and the formidable opposition, New England must conjure up a response to their disappointment in Utah to further their quest to snap a three-match losing streak and start their climb up the table, according to forward Zack Schilawski.
“The good news is that we have a lot of games coming up here with SuperLiga,” Schilawski said. “We don't have to sit around for a while with that bad taste in our mouth. We can go back out there and try again. Our response has to be a lot better in terms of a more consistent 90-minute effort and keeping things more solid.”