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Short-handed New England battles Houston

Apr 15, 2011 - 7:23 PM Houston, TX (Sports Network) - New England manager Steve Nicol acknowledged he was "shell-shocked" by red cards to Shalrie Joseph and Pat Phelan last weekend and now must navigate a tough road match at Houston on Sunday without the duo.

The Revolution (1-1-3) lost their first game of the young season last weekend, 2-0, to Real Salt Lake at Gillette Stadium. Nicol also stated "I guess there's no hiding behind anything: we weren't good," after the setback.

Now, Nicol and short-handed New England face a rematch of the 2006 and '07 MLS Cup finals, both won by the Dynamo. Houston (1-1-2) is fresh off its first win of the season, 3-1, against expansion Vancouver Whitecaps FC.

New England and Houston are both struggling to regain the form that paired the clubs in back-to-back MLS Cup finals, and Nicol's challenge this week became a lot tougher when Joseph and Phelan were sent off in the second half last week.

"As much as I'm shell-shocked with the red cards and everything that happened in the last 25-30 minutes of the game," Nicol said, "it doesn't hide the fact that we got what we deserved."

New England defender Darrius Barnes said that with Joseph and Phelan - who are responsible for two goals and two assists this season combined - out, "it just means that some people are going to have to step up.

"That's going to be a big game for us," Barnes added, "we would hate to go on a two-game losing streak."

Although New England has just one victory, the win and three draws are enough to place the club second in the Eastern Conference after four weeks, although the Revolution have played at least one more match than the rest of the East.

"It is bad, the loss, and we have to look forward because until now we've had good results," New England forward Ilija Stolica said after the Real loss.

New England has won its last four visits to Robertson Stadium, a trend Houston would like to snap this week as it eyes second place in the Eastern Conference in its first season in the division.

With forward Brian Ching sidelined last weekend, Brad Davis recorded his first three-assist game to tie a Dynamo club record and rookie Will Bruin scored his first professional goal.

Houston goalie Tally Hall enjoyed a great view of the team's performance last week against Vancouver and said afterward, "we were better in every category, and we outplayed them.

"The whole team did great."

That's the type of effort coach Dominic Kinnear hopes to get at home again on Sunday, as the club looks to run its unbeaten streak to four matches.