Believe it or not, the New England Revolution and the Harrisburg City Islanders have a history of playing each other. While not a rivalry by any stretch of the imagination, the City Islanders are 1-1 all time against New England in the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup, having lost to the Revs 1-2 in 2007 and then beating them 2-1 in 2009. In all, Harrisburg is 3-3 against all Major League Soccer competitors, which is very respectable for a USL Pro side.
How seriously are the Revolution taking the competition:
When it comes to Open Cup, this is the first question usually asked. Checking the available lists of players, we can see that the Revs are taking this early match pretty seriously. Saer, Sene, Matt Reis and A.J. Soares did not make the trip from DC to Pennsylvania, but, among those who did, we see Jose Moreno, Kelyn Rowe, Fernando Cardenas, Stephen McCarthy and most importantly Benny Feilhaber. These five players have all spent time as starters - McCarthy and Feilhaber having played in nearly every MLS game for the Revs outside of games when they were injured and suspension.
Jay Heaps has stated that he wants New England going after trophies. All trophies. The US Open Cup, by all accounts, is probably the most winnable. However, when MLS realigned the schedule to become regionally and conference based, many other squads have said they too will be able to properly field a lineup - that is more than just reserves - for the competition. Tonight's match against a recently hot Harrisburg team will let us know what the Revs could expect in this competition
What should the Revs expect from Harrisburg?
Over seven games in USL PRO, Harrisburg has 12 points in 7 games with a +5 Goal Differential. They currently sit in fourth place in their table. They are also undefeated in their last five games across all competitions. This includes a 4-0 thrashing of the Dayton Lions, and more impressively a 1-0 win over Rochester, who prior to playing Harrisburg was undefeated and untied with 0 Goals Allowed on the season.
In the 2nd round of the US Open Cup, which is the first round that featured USL PRO and NASL teams, Harrisburg dispatched of the Long Island Rough Riders 2-0 with goals from Yann Ekra and Brian Ombiji. With an overall record of 10-4-2 in the Open Cup, Harrisburg could be a challenging side.
Revolution assistant coach David Vaudreuil (who will be coaching tonight in lieu of the recent death of Jay Heaps's mother) says, "Every scouting report we've gotten has said that these guys have not gone away, no matter what happens in the first half, in the first 10 minutes. If they give up a goal, they immediately respond and they're gonna fight and they're gonna play and they're gonna get their opportunities."
Who should the Revs be wary of on Harrisburg?
Previously mentioned forward Yann Ekra has 5 goals in 5 apperances across all competitions, including one in the second round of US Open Cup. Ekra is currently tied for USL PRO's Golden Boot and will be the primary attacking option for the City Islanders. Sainey Touray, who has featured for several Gambian Youth National Teams, is tied for second place in USL PRO for assists. J.T. Noone, formerly of the Union who are an MLS affiliate of Harrisburg, is an MLS-level player, who has 2 goals and 2 assists over 7 games.
What should we expect for the Revs' lineup?
Most likely we'll be seeing a 4-4-2.
With Sene and Runstrom both out, Blake Brettschnieder and Jose Moreno most likely start up top giving the Revs two big bodied forwards to attack the City Islanders backline.
Meanwhile, there could be an very attack minded midfield with Lee Nguyen, Benny Feilhaber, Diego Fagundez, and Kelyn Rowe. However, even though Nguyen and Feilhaber made the trip, it would not be shocking to see Jeremiah White (who was listed as questionable on the injury report) or Michael Roach possibly starting in the midfield. This would let these two first-team regulars rest and only be used if the game dictated it.
In the back, I would expect Alec Purdie (which would put him out of position, but Kevin Alston did not make the trip) along with Darrius Barnes, Stephen McCarthy and rookie Tyler Polak. John Lozano is listed as questionable, but if he is fit for the match I would prefer him starting in place of Purdie pushing Barnes to the right.
Matt Reis did not make the trip so Bobby Shuttleworth will make his season debut.
Prediction: New England 3-1 Harrisburg City Islanders
Harrisburg will probably sit back and hope for a counter, but if a New England side that could potentially feature Benny Feilhaber, Lee Nguyen and Jose Moreno cannot win this game then the Revs have some very serious questions going into the rest of the MLS slate.
If New England wins, they would be on the road in the fourth round of the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup, either in Charleston, SC to play the Charleston Battery or in Harrison, NJ to play the New York Red Bulls.