New on Sports Illustrated: Union-Revolution Preview

August 20, 2020 at 01:40AM

Attempting to build on a strong showing at the MLS Is Back tournament, the Philadelphia Union look to defeat the New England Revolution for the second time in less than a month when they meet Thursday night.

The Union (2-1-2) reached the semifinals of the Florida event before falling to eventual champion Portland. Jim Curtin's team won four of its six matches at the event, scoring in every contest and recording a pair of shutouts.

"Coming off a good performance down in Orlando, really excited to get back playing games of consequence," Curtin said. "One of the biggest challenges has been keeping the players motivated and ready to go for what feels like our fourth start to the season.

"We got to play a lot of games, two more than New England did, which has kept us pretty sharp. We have a group that is excited to get back on the field. Three points are on the line in conference."

One of those matches was a 1-0 victory July 25 over the Revolution in the round of 16, with Sergio Santos' goal on 63 minutes separating the sides. Andre Blake made five saves, none more important than his tipping of Tajon Buchanon's header over the bar to preserve the lead almost immediately after it was gained.

Blake, the Jamaica No. 1, has been sharp throughout the year for Philadelphia, yielding 10 goals in eight matches across all competitions while racking up 43 saves. He has proven to be a bogeyman for New England, winning his last seven starts against the Revs while posting six clean sheets in that stretch.

Blake's dominance in the regional rivalry could be set for another chapter given New England has had trouble scoring goals both before and after the pandemic break. The Revs (1-1-3) scraped through to the knockout round despite scoring just two goals in group play thanks to a standout defense that conceded just once in those three matches.

Revs coach and general manager Bruce Arena must make do without one of his key attackers in Carles Gil, who is out for the season with an Achilles injury. That means most of the playmaking and goal-scoring responsibilities fall upon Gustavo Bou, but other players know they must step up to help the Argentine midfielder.

"It's hard to really fill a gap like Carles," midfielder Teal Bunbury told the Revs' official website. "He's an unbelievable player, great guy in the locker room, great teammate, great friend, but I think he's going to come back stronger than ever. He's such a hard worker, so I think his recovery's going to go really well.

"But it's an opportunity for guys to step up. That's what this sport is all about, is when someone gets injured, it's an opportunity for someone else to kind of step up and showcase what they can do."

Arena is pondering possible moves during the unprecedented in-season transfer window, but with New England having three Designated Players, a significant acquisition may be tougher to land.

"Are we going to do anything in the transfer market to replace (Gil)?" Arena said. "No, I don't believe so. We're at three Designated Players at the moment. We wanted to strengthen our team a little bit with a No. 6. We brought in Matt Polster.

"There could be a trade or two in the league, but I don't anticipate us looking outside the league in this transfer window. But having said that, things can change."

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