Both sides enter the weekend with just one win on the still-young season, neck and neck at the bottom half of the Eastern Conference table.
New England (1-5-1, 4 points) has looked lifeless in the attack outside the play of Spanish midfielder Carles Gil, who leads the team with three goals, while head coach Brad Friedel has put out myriad starting lineups in the first seven games – due in large part to injuries, suspensions and even poor play from some of the usual starters.
But Revolution players are preaching patience and insist they’re sticking together in spite of what is currently the worst start to a season since 2001.
“It’s obviously difficult as players because you want to win every game and you want to perform well, so when those things aren’t happening, it’s a little bit tougher honestly,” said Revolution striker Teal Bunbury, who did not start in last weekend’s 2-0 home loss to Atlanta United and has not yet recorded a goal or shot on goal this season.
“But spirits are up,” he added. “We know we have a lot of games still to play and we know that we can still get the best out of each other.”
Playing a storied rival like the Red Bulls (1-3-2, 5 points) might be the Revolution’s tonic if they hope to put together a turnaround.
The Red Bulls were once the Metrostars, and their existence in Major League Soccer traces back to the league’s inaugural 1996 season, just like the Revolution. The teams have met 72 times during the regular season (New England leads the all-time series 30-27-15) and four times in the playoffs.
As is the case with all other Boston-New York sports rivalries, most encounters, regardless of where either team is in the table, have been fierce.
So a win Saturday might not just be a shot of adrenaline for the Revs – it could also serve as a catalyst for better things to come.
“Winning makes everything better,” Bunbury said. “If you can string some wins here and there, get some results, everything kind of changes.”
The Red Bulls visit Foxborough, where they’ve only won twice since 2001, looking to build on a 1-1 tie at Sporting Kansas City last weekend.
“They’re going to come in here wanting to win, but we know we’re playing at home and we can’t be satisfied with how the past few games at home have gone,” Bunbury said. “We have to go out there and get three points.”
One thing likely ailing the Red Bulls is the slight scoring output from English striker Bradley Wright-Phillips, a perennial attacking menace who has nine career goals against New England.
Though Wright-Phillips has just one goal to his name so far in 2019, Revolution captain Michael Mancienne knows to be on high alert.
“I played against him a few times, to be fair,” said Mancienne, who competed in England at the same time as Wright-Phillips. “I remember when I was at Wolves [short for Wolverhampton Wanderers FC] I played against him. So I’ve crossed paths with him a few times.
“You’ve just got to remain switched on. Especially, people like that come alive in the box – foxes in the box, as we call them in England. But you’ve got to just stay alert, be on your toes and stay concentrated at all times, because if the ball drops down to him, you know he can finish it.”
While Revolution players and coaches try to stay even-keeled about the side’s struggles, media and supporter pressure continues to grow. Some fans have canceled their season tickets, while the two club supporters groups, the Midnight Riders and the Rebellion, chanted “We deserve better, Mike Burns” in an appeal to Burns, the team’s general manager, and the rest of the front office during last weekend’s loss to Atlanta.
Friedel managed to right the ship in March amid criticism he wasn’t motivating his players to work hard enough, and the team took a 2-1 win over Minnesota United to snap a four-game winless run. But that has been the only victory so far as the attack and defense continue to underperform and angst among onlookers swells.
A victory against the Red Bulls could quell much of that pressure, but anything less than three points could signal the Revolution aren’t going far in 2019.