At first blush, the New England Revolution and Seattle Sounders FC bear a striking resemblance to each other as Saturday’s clash at CenturyLink Field approaches.
They both occupy spots at or near the bottom of their respective conferences through the first four games, and both have found it difficult to score goals. Both are also coming off a bye week, and both are anxious to put the last six weeks of the season behind them.
After that, however, the similarities essentially end.
For starters, Saturday’s contest is New England’s first chance to play for something greater than goals, points or results. On Monday, they learned that left back Kevin Alston was diagnosed with a rare, but treatable, form of leukemia that has forced him to take an indefinite leave of absence to treat the disease. Throughout the week, Alston’s teammates and coaches have pointed to him as a source of inspiration, and hope to parlay that sentiment into success on the field.
While the Revolution hope to rally behind their ailing teammate, their winless counterparts are looking to use the growing contingent of Sounders doubters as motivation. Seattle, a perennial contender since entering the league four years ago, has looked like a shell of its former self in the early going. Season-opening home losses to Montreal and Portland have only served as fodder for those who believe that Seattle could be a quintessential paper tiger, even with the additions of ex-Rev Shalrie Joseph and Obafemi Martins.
Taking a look at how the two sides spent a break from league action yields another stark contrast.
Last Friday, the Revolution used their bye week to host a friendly against the unaffiliated New England Force on the Gillette Stadium grounds. The hosts won handily, 4-0, but more importantly it allowed Jay Heaps the opportunity to keep both his starters and reserves sharp.
As for the Sounders, they went to Mexico to play a CONCACAF Champions League match against Santos Laguna that was anything but friendly. Although the Sounders fell 2-1 on aggregate, their commendable 1-1 second leg draw at Estadio Corona may signal that they’ve turned the corner on their early struggles.
Another key difference: how each team intends to get three points on Saturday.
The Revolution will rely heavily upon an improved defense that’s only conceded a league-low two goals this season. Collecting their third shutout in five tries will be crucial to their success.
On the flip side, the Sounders hope that an attack in which Osvaldo Alonso pulls the strings can get Eddie Johnson -- who scored two goals against the Revolution in their last meeting on June 30 -- enough chances to capitalize.
There’s no doubt that the differences between the Revolution and Sounders are striking in some respects. But while both enter Saturday’s contest in the thick of contrasting storylines, the fact is both need the same thing from it: three precious points.