FOXBORO, MA - APRIL 2: A. J. Soares #5 of the New England Revolution and Eric Brunner #5 of the Portland Timbers fight for the ball at Gillette Stadium on April 2, 2011 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
The New England Revolution will be hoping for some significant home-field advantage tonight when they take on the Portland Timbers at 4 PM in the Revs' 2012 home opener. New England is coming off a terrible 0-2 road trip where they were shut out twice, while Portland is sporting a respectable 1-0-1 record and can build on two very good performances in the last two weeks.
Injuries: New England is still missing the defensive duo of Darrius Barnes (calf) and John Lozano (hip flexor). Added to the list this week is Benny Feilhaber (peroneal strain), who couldn't get fit in time for tonight's clash. They join the usual crowd of Zak Boggs (ankle) and Sainey Nyassi (IR - hamstring) on the injury report.
Suspensions: Stephen McCarthy will be unavailable following his dismissal last week, leaving the Revs perilously thin in defense.
Interesting Storyline: Florian Lechner arrived and joined the team late this week, so there is an outside chance that he will dress and be ready for tonight's match, but the real news is that Jose Moreno finally got to Foxboro and practiced with the team yesterday. The fiasco surrounding Moreno's transfer has been well-documented, but now that he's in camp, he'll be expected to put all of that behind him and produce immediately. Of course, he's nursing a slight injury from the end of January, so it may still be some time before he takes the pitch.
2011 Head-to-Head: The Revolution are 0-1-1 against the Timbers, losing 3-0 at Jeld-Wen and drawing 1-1 at home. Stephen McCarthy has the club's only goal against the club in MLS regular season play.
Keys to the Game: New England has to act like the home team in this one. Against San Jose they let the opponents dictate the play and against Kansas City they were effectively out of the match thanks to officiating before they had a chance to get going, but this week there can't be any excuses. The Revs have to come out hard and punish the Timbers early, or Portland will boss play and Kris Boyd will start scoring. Once that happens, it's all over.
In their last two matches, the Timbers have shown a tendency toward slow starts, playing poorly in the opening half against Philly and Dallas. They came on very strong in the second half of both matches, but this is a weakness that the Revs could exploit. If New England can hop on the Timbers early and put them in a deep hole, then they might be able to build a lead that Portland cannot overtake. Furthermore, Portland had an abysmal away record last season, and while 2012 is a new year, it can't be ignored that the team's core remains and might still have the same issues.
Injuries in the back have made any attempt to predict the starting lineup an exercise in futility. If Lechner is available, he will almost certainly find himself slotted into central defense to complete a four-man back line, but barring that, Jay Heaps will be scrambling to fill gaps. He might go to a three-man back line, or he might slot Shalrie Joseph or Clyde Simms into central defense, or he might even move Chris Tierney over and start rookie Tyler Polak at left-back. Replacing Benny Feilhaber should be a bit easier, with players like Kelyn Rowe, Lee Nguyen, and Ryan Guy all having the familiarity and creative talent to play either wide or as a central playmaker.
Broadcast Information: TV: 4:00 PM, CSN; RADIO: 4:00 PM, 98.5 The Sports Hub