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Can FC Cincinnati avoid expansion club blues at Gillette Stadium?

Nick Hagglund
Mar 10, 2019; Atlanta, GA, USA; FC Cincinnati defender Nick Hagglund (14) reacts against Atlanta United in the first half at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

FC Cincinnati visits Foxborough on Sunday looking to do what just one other expansion team has ever done: beat the New England Revolution at Gillette Stadium on the first try.

The Philadelphia Union is the only expansion team to emerge victorious from its maiden visit to Gillette Stadium, although the Chicago Fire did win its first game in New England at the old Foxboro Stadium in 1998.

New England is 6-2-6 all time in its first matchup with an expansion team. However, the first meeting at Gillette Stadium is another story; the Revs have an impressive 9-1-2 record in those games and have out-scored expansion teams 27-11.

Players, coaches, rules, and tactics can change season by season, but it’s clear the Revolution have a way of putting off newcomers with their unique home field advantage.

Visitors have been complaining about Gillette Stadium’s atmosphere and artificial turf for years, so it’s not too surprising that newly-crafted teams have a tough time settling into a style of play.

A cynical person might even say schedule makers are hazing expansion teams by bringing them to Foxborough so early in the season when the temperature can hover above freezing and the pitch is still worn from the previous National Football League season – Seven of the 12 clubs formed since 2005 have visited Gillette Stadium inside the first two months of the season.

But Cincinnati might be more battle-tested than most. The team enters the weekend 1-1-1 after dispatching the Portland Timbers 3-0 in its very first home game. That result followed an impressive 1-1 draw at Atlanta, arguably the toughest road environment in the league.

The Revolution (0-2-1, 1 point), who dropped their home opener two weekends ago against Columbus Crew SC, are keenly aware that Cincinnati has energy and momentum coming into Gillette Stadium, which bodes well for the positive, possession-oriented game it takes to leave the typically inhospitable facility with points.

Columbus employed a similar style of play two weeks ago by controlling 55 percent of possession and won, 2-0.

Cincinnati will be missing some starters due to international play while the Revolution will mostly be at full strength. Regardless, the 2019 MLS season debutants have so far shown that they’re more adaptable than most expansion teams. Its draw at Atlanta was more smash-and-grab than its victory over Portland last weekend which showcased the team’s attacking flair and competence on set pieces.

New England has shown some positives in the first month of the season despite still being winless, particularly with newcomer Carles Gil, a Spanish playmaker who has scored all three of the club’s goals. Ultimately, though, the standings reflect results, not signs of promise.

Gillette Stadium may take teams – particularly new ones – some getting used to, but it would be a mistake for the Revolution to rely solely on their home field advantage.

A victory on Sunday would give the Revs their first bit of momentum in 2019. But Cincinnati has so far shown a propensity for punching above its weight on the road.

Anything less than a win for New England in its first meeting with FC Cincinnati would be a step backward.

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