|“Huge” home-stand kicks off this weekend
||By Jeff Lemieux, Staff Writer & Online Host
After opening the season by playing three of four on the road, the Revs will host the Colorado Rapids, FC Dallas and Chivas USA in a 12-day span | Listen to In the Net Podcasts >>
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. - There’s no tried and true formula for success when it comes to professional soccer. Speak with five head coaches and you’ll likely get five different perspectives on the best formations, tactics, strategies and training methods. In fact, many coaches have completely conflicting approaches to the game, yet there seems to be no discernible means of determining which approach is the best.
However, there is one critical point which most experts tend to agree upon, no matter their background or pedigree: successful clubs must win at home.
In full, the old adage declares that a team will be successful should it win at home and draw on the road. To be sure, circumstances often dictate whether a club will be happy with a single point on the road, and it’s not to say that most clubs don’t approach road games with the intent of earning a victory. But in the end, it’s typically home form that makes or breaks a club.
That’s especially true in a league with a playoff system like Major League Soccer. Exactly 50 percent (eight of 16) of MLS teams will earn a postseason berth in 2010, meaning that a team with a mediocre road record can still qualify for the playoffs as long as that club has won the majority of its home games.
Take for instance the 2009 MLS Cup champion, Real Salt Lake. The Utah club had the third-worst road record in all of MLS (2-11-2), but a stellar mark at Rio Tinto Stadium (9-1-5) propelled RSL into the playoffs. The rest, as they say, is history, as a magical run through the postseason ended with the fifth-year club lifting its first MLS Cup trophy.
“We’ve got to make sure that we win all of our home games, because it will help us make the playoffs,” said midfielder Sainey Nyassi, who has seen the MLS Cup Playoffs system at work for the past three years. “If you win most of your home games, hopefully you will get there. I think we have to capitalize on our chances.”
One of the Revolution’s best chances to capitalize at home begins on Saturday, April 24, when the club kicks off a three-game home-stand against the Colorado Rapids. Home games against FC Dallas (May 1) and Chivas USA (May 5) will follow, as the Revs will enjoy their only three-game home-stand of the 2010 season.
While it’s too early in the campaign to declare the upcoming home-stand as vital, the opportunity to accumulate points during this favorable stretch is not lost on head coach Steve Nicol or his players.
“It’s huge,” said Nicol. “It’s important to get points on the board early, so we have to take advantage of the fact that we’re home.”
Following the home-stand, the Revs will play three of their next five games on the road before heading into the two-week break for the FIFA World Cup in mid-June. That difficult stretch includes trips to Columbus, Toronto and Seattle, three teams which had a combined home record of 24-7-14 in 2009. For that reason, it’s all the more important that the Revolution racks up as many points as possible in the next three games at Gillette Stadium.
There are many advantages to playing at home. Professional athletes are often creatures of habit, and the opportunity to sleep in their own beds and dress at their own lockers cannot be overlooked. But beyond that, players often have a familiarity with the field at their home stadium, whether it be the surface itself or the field dimensions. That’s especially true at Gillette Stadium, which is the only venue in the United States to boast FieldTurf Duraspine PRO.
“I’m always confident when we are playing on a wide field,” said Nyassi. “Especially at home when I have more balls on the wide side so I can take [defenders] one-on-one.”
Of course, playing in front of the home crowd doesn’t hurt either.
”I think it’s more exciting playing at home because playing with the crowd really boosts our morale,” Nyassi added. “Especially myself, it really helps me playing at home [rather] than away, because I get more confidence playing [at home].”
Rookie forward Zack Schilawski got his first taste of the power of the home crowd in the Revolution’s 4-1 win over Toronto FC two weeks ago. Making his experience even more special, Schilawski scored the first, second and third goals of his professional career at Gillette Stadium, and all three were scored directly in front of “The Fort.”
“When you visualize yourself scoring goals, you think about the atmosphere after,” he said. “It was the greatest feeling to be able to share that with the fans, especially with ‘The Fort’ right behind the goal.”
One player who benefits from hearing the supporters up-close-and-personal while standing directly in front of “The Fort” for 45 minutes each home game is goalkeeper Preston Burpo. He reiterated Nicol’s take on the importance of the home-stand, but also cautioned the Revs not to forget the lessons learned from the three road games they’ve already played.
“It’s huge,” Burpo said, echoing the term Nicol used. “With that said, we’ve played three out of the first four on the road, so to be 2-2 at this point, I think everyone should be happy about it. I think we still have a long ways to go to where we really want to be - keeping the ball, being a little bit more disciplined defensively. So hopefully we can take the positives over the last four games and take that into this next home-stand and get as many points as possible.”