When D.C. United dismissed Curt Onalfo on Wednesday morning, the New England Revolution knew their task would change on Saturday night.
Instead of hosting a United side reeling from their lost season, the Revolution will likely confront a reinvigorated group now led by interim coach Ben Olsen.
The altered reality will force New England to match United's intensity level in the early stages of the contest in order to avoid suffering any repercussions from the switch, according to Revolution boss Steve Nicol.
“It's the classic situation where a coach loses his job and then, the next game, everybody's going to be running faster, chasing harder and doing more,” Nicol told MLSsoccer.com on Friday. “That's exactly what we're going to expect tomorrow. We need to try and get on them early and try and shut that down a little bit. They’re going to come out and try to prove a point."
Revolution defender Darrius Barnes believes his side also has something to prove, as it attempts to continue its fine recent form.
New England enter the match unbeaten in six matches and need three points against United to bolster their playoff hopes. While DC's recent coaching change may complicate the task at hand, the Revs must find a way to extend their current run, Barnes said.
“It's always difficult to play a team when they're coming off a coaching change,” Barnes said. “They're inspired and they want to do well for the new coach. I feel like teams feel like it's their fault when a coach gets fired, so they definitely have something to come out and prove. But we do, too. We haven't been beaten in the past six games, so we want to keep that going.”
New England will attempt to secure a seventh consecutive result without the services of Kevin Alston (mild left hamstring strain) and Marko Perovic (left calf strain). Both players picked up injuries in Wednesday's SuperLiga semifinal victory over Puebla and Nicol said neither player would feature against United.
Removing Alston and Perovic from the squad will force Nicol to juggle his starting 11. Chris Tierney could slot into Alston's right-back role unless Nicol opts for a more radical shift, while Cory Gibbs will likely start at left back in place of Seth Sinovic.
Pat Phelan will hope to reclaim his spot in central midfield, but Joseph Niouky could keep his place after an assured performance against the Mexican side midweek.
Nicol could also turn to Serbian forward Ilija Stolica if he needs a goal in the late stages of the contest. Stolica received his P1 work visa on Friday morning and spent most of the day traveling from Belgrade to Boston. With Stolica expected to land in Massachusetts on Friday night, he will likely feature in the squad and could see action, Nicol said.
The results, however, are more important than the lineup wranglings at this point in the season. New England start the weekend eight points out of the playoffs, so they need to collect a victory against United and continue their unbeaten spell in order to make a postseason push.
“We need to get points,” Barnes said. “A tie's not going to cut it. It's nice not to lose, but we definitely need to start getting three points in our building.
“There are points there to be taken. If we get a couple of wins in a row here, then we're right back in the mix in the Eastern Conference. That's what we're looking to do: one game at a time, three points at a time, and build from there.”