The New England Revolution will play the penultimate match of their season on Saturday night in their home finale against the Chicago Fire at Gillette Stadium. The Revs are looking to put a disappointing season behind them that sees the once-dominant club miss the playoffs for a third straight year. Chicago, on the other hand, rode a powerful midseason surge to second place in the Eastern Conference and a guaranteed playoff berth.
Chicago's offense has come to life despite losing their most potent attacking player of the last few years (Marco Pappa) to a midseason transfer. The triumphant return of Chris Rolfe paired with the inspired Designated Player signing of Sherjill MacDonald has turned what was an inconsistent and anemic attack in the early going into a voracious scoring machine. The Revs' patchwork backline will be in knots with the combination of speed and strength that the Fire possess on the wings and up front. A.J. Soares claims he relishes the physical battle, and Darrius Barnes is often lauded for his athleticism; both will be put to the test on Saturday.
Defensively, the Fire have one of the best center-back duos in MLS with Arne Friedrich and rookie Austin Berry. Both play a physical but intelligent style of defense. Sean Johnson has been suspect at times in goal, but he appears to have recovered from the trauma of the USA's Olympic Qualifying debacle and has quietly put on a great second-half performance in 2012. Fresh off his international hat-trick, Revs forward Jerry Bengtson will have to be intelligent in his movement and pick his spots if he hopes to add to his meager two-goal tally with New England against this back line.
New England remains ravaged by injuries leading into this game, with several key absences likely to force head coach Jay Heaps into some uncomfortable changes, especially in the back. Lee Nguyen and Saer Sene are still shut down for the season, as it appears is Florian Lechner, who is still sidelined with an MCL sprain. Added to that list, at least for this match, is defender Stephen McCarthy, who continues to show concussive-like symptoms after picking up a head injury in training. Tyler Polak is also out nursing a foot injury.
A.J. Soares, Chris Tierney, and Juan Toja are all listed as questionable with various ailments. Tierney recently returned to full training and may be available for selection on Saturday, but with nothing left to play for, it may not be worth risking further complications by rushing him onto the field. Soares should be available after leaving the Philadelphia match two weeks ago with a knee knock, barring any setbacks.
Also of note, Benny Feilhaber will miss this match as part of his mandatory one-match suspension for being dismissed after collecting two yellow cards two weeks ago against the Union.
The Fire own the all-time record between these two clubs since Chicago joined the league in 1998, with the Revs posting a 14-19-9 mark in 42 regular-season meetings. At home, the Revs are a more-respectable 10-8-3. That said, the teams have met another 20 times in the playoffs, the Open Cup, and the now-defunct SuperLiga, with Chicago again owning the better record at 29-22-10. This year, the series is split at 1-1-0, with the Revs taking the first meeting but Chicago winning at home in the second.
The match will be broadcast live on CSN Alternate Channels at 7:30 PM EST. 98.5 The Sports Hub will have the radio call.