When the New England Revolution host the expansion Portland Timbers on April 1 at Gillette Stadium, while it will be the first ever meeting between the two teams, they will not be on completely unfamiliar terms.
Making his Foxborough return will be old friend Adin Brown, who manned the space between the sticks from 2002-2004, including the 2002 MLS Cup Final run, before leaving for Danish side Aalesund FK. After signing with Portland last season, Brown will be making the third start of his return to Major League Soccer on a pitch he knows quite well.
Brown backstopped 48 games for the Revs in his three years with the team, and compiled a tidy goals against average of 1.73 during that span.
Indeed, his steady presence played a vital role in the club’s success during the early years of the previous decade, and Brown was unquestionably one of the league’s top stoppers.
Posting four shutouts in seven games during the 2002 MLS Cup playoffs, Brown sealed his place as a fan favorite in Foxborough and is sure to be received warmly at the start of Saturday’s proceedings.
In current Revs net minder Matt Reis, Brown squares of against the man who took over for him in the Gillette goal. History does not favor a hospitable welcome home for the 32-year-old keeper.
Reis has become a rock-solid MLS goalie since 2004, when injuries forced Brown to miss all but seven games during his final season in New England. Joining MLS in 1998 as a backup with LA Galaxy, Reis finally got his chance to start on a regular basis when Brown went down and proceeded to make this position his own.
Since becoming New England’s number one goalie, Reis has surpassed the bar set by Brown, and compiled a stellar 1.26 GAA over 183 regular season games from 2004 through 2010.
Unfortunately for Brown and the Timbers, Reis is at his stingiest against expansion teams, and historically, is at his best early in the season. The Revs’ goalie is 8-2-4 against expansion teams over his New England career, posting six shutouts and a minuscule 0.65 GAA. Reis is also a combined 17-5-7 in the months of March and April with a GAA well under 1.00. As a team, the Revs haven’t lost the first go-round with an expansion franchise since 2000, going 5-0-2 over the span.
Head coach Steve Nicol has favored a 4-5-1 formation so far this season, and that seems unlikely to change as the results have been encouraging so far. New England has yet to lose a match, and the offense—one of MLS’ most anemic a year ago—has returned three goals in the first two game of 2011.
Zack Schilawski, a second-year forward, has been playing as the lone man up front for Nicol so far, and broke a 10-month scoreless streak with his early strike against DC United last time out. Barring some unforeseen event, he will be reprising his role as lone striker against Portland.
The man who makes it all go for the Revs is without question midfielder Shalrie Joseph.
After a troubling run-up to the current campaign that saw the Jamaican international sent home from camp, along with full back Kevin Alston, for disciplinary reasons following an incident at the team’s hotel in Florida, the Revs’ engine has been off to a blistering start in 2011. Joseph was arrested for trespassing after refusing to comply with the orders of law enforcement officers to vacate the premises following a loud party.
Scoring two goals in two games, Joseph has provided the impetus for much of New England’s offense so far, and will need to continue in this manner, at least until the team can properly integrate all its new additions, if the Revs are to enjoy a prolonged absence from the loss column.
Zak Boggs (whose injury last week wasn’t enough to keep him off the pitch this week), Pat Phelan, Stephen McCarthy and Kenny Mansally will likely join Joseph in the middle of the pitch, while Alston and frenchman Didier Domi should start at full back.
In the middle it will probably be AJ Soares and Ryan Cochrane who get the nod. Cochrane will start over Argentine rookie Franco Coria, who injured his hamstring last time out and will not go against Portland.
My guess is that Nicol will be encouraging his charges to test Brown early and often, as they did Pat Onstad last weekend. With the chances of the club bringing in a Designated Player signing to help with the attack before the summer transfer windows in Europe dwindling by the day, New England will need to build on the successes of the first two games and build up some confidence bringing the ball forward if Nicol and company hope to avoid a repeat of last season’s paltry scoring totals.
Defensively, the squad looked pretty good against a potent DC United squad, only finally conceding in stoppage time, and with Domi being a seasoned European veteran, the team looks pretty well squared at full back.
The real question in the back is in the middle.
While Soares now has a year under his belt, Cochrane made his New England debut against United, and the man he came on for, Coria, is just 22 years old with limited first team experience in Argentina.
That being said, you’ve got to be pleased with the early indicators of how this defense may fare in 2011. Holding the Galaxy, what with Beckham, Angel and Donovan, to one goal is no mean feat, and it took over an hour and a half for Charlie Davies and DC to score on the Revs last week.
All in all, the Revs should have little trouble felling the fledgling Timbers.
Prediction: 3-1 New England. Joseph, Boggs and Schilawski pot goals for Nicol’s side, while old pro Eddie Johnson gets a late consolation for Portland.