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Know Your Enemy: New England Revolution - Meeting The First. Part One: The Lineup And The Tactics

Shalrie Joseph will hopefully not be around to do more of this sort of thing.  Serious kudos to whoever can name the TFC player in this picture.
Shalrie Joseph will hopefully not be around to do more of this sort of thing. Serious kudos to whoever can name the TFC player in this picture.

After what was arguably Toronto FC's worst start to a match this season in Kansas City, the club put in what was emphatically their best first half performance at least since the back in the early days of the Champions League.

Of course it all came crashing down in the second half - the decision to send home half of the substitutes and take off Julian de Guzman seemed rash in retrospect - but take heart in the little things.

The squad returns to BMO Field on Saturday for new coach Paul Mariner's first home game, playing host to his old friends, the New England Revolution.

Which TFC takes the pitch - the first half dominants, or the second half submissives - is impossible to predict, but what can be expected of their opponents.

A closer look at the Revolution is in order.

The Lineup

Jay Heaps, who took charge of the club last November - a month after it was announced that Steve Nicol would not continue his tenure - is one of a new breed of MLS managers, those who have played extensively in the league.

Jason Kreis in Salt Lake was the first - and most successful to date - but in Heaps and DC's Ben Olsen there is a wave of new blood transitioning from the pitch to the front office. MLS is a unique league and the better a coach understands the myriad factors that affect the players, the better the results can be.

Heaps has done a wonderful job of turning the Revs around. A woeful season, one that saved Toronto the ignominy of finishing last in the Eastern Conference, has given way to freshness, both in approach and in personnel.

In place are the old guard, long-time Revs Shalrie Joseph and Matt Reis; but added to the mix are a series of fresh faces and some vital acquisitions jettisoned by other MLS clubs.

New England has primarily used a diamond 4-4-2 formation, occasionally switching to a 4-2-3-1 in deference to some of the more intimidating foes MLS has to offer - Kansas City and Salt Lake, to be specific.

Within those confines, Heaps has plenty of choice at his disposal. Heading into Toronto however, injury reports suggest he'll have a few tough decisions as well.

The primary issue will be who is fielded in the centre of the pitch. Joseph, the club captain and thorn-in-the-side of TFC, could miss out with an adductor strain, while his oft-times partner in the middle, Clyde Simms, is only just returning from a bout of ankle tendonitis.

They have formed a formidable partnership, reading each other well and taking turns sitting and pushing as the match required. Simms' acquisition in the MLS Re-Entry Draft has allowed Joseph freedom to press forward in attack without fear of leaving a hole behind him.

Is the risk that Joseph's injury worsens enough to force him to miss his first match against Toronto FC? Is Simms fit enough to step straight back into the team after four matches out?

Ryan Guy, the jack-of-all-trades that has filled in several spots for Heaps this season is also listed as unavailable as is mysterious striker Jose Moreno, whose protracted addition to the club from Colombia was an odd-saga, one of the more peculiar storylines of the off-season.

With those stipulations in mind, the projected lineup is as follows: Reis in goal; from right to left: Kevin Alston, Stephen McCarthy, A.J. Soares, and Chris Tierney along the back-line; Simms sitting at the base with Fernando Cardenas, Benny Feilhaber, and Lee Nguyen across the midfield; Saer Sene and Blake Brettschneider will pair up top.

football formations

A brief word, on what may appear to be the shocking exclusion of first-year sensation Kelyn Rowe. He burst onto the scene, starting the first seven matches of the season, but has recently been relegated to the subs bench and brought on - to great effect - in the second half.

The adaptation from amateur to professional is a difficult transition and it was only a matter of time before he was burnt out with the rigours of travel and a hectic schedule. By saving him in reserve, he can be initiated more slowly to the requirements of the level and still be a productive member of the squad.

His introduction in the match versus Chicago helped turned the night, scoring the opening goal five minutes after coming on and setting up the second some four minutes later.

Expect a similar second half threat on Saturday.

The Form

New England arrives in Toronto unbeaten in the month of June having not allowed a goal, mighty impressive indeed, though truthfully, only two matches.

A 2-0 win at home against Chicago in one of the few MLS matches to take place during the International Window and a 0-0 draw - again at home - against Columbus last weekend.

The schedule makers have been kind to the Revs. Only on two occasions have they faced the type of fixture congestion that has plagued every moment of TFC's calendar, playing three matches in eight days at the end of April and again at the end of May, though the middle game the second time around was in the US Open Cup.

That match deserves a special mention, as it was one of the strangest to follow on a crazy night of football as the Third Round of the Cup saw MLS teams dropping left, right, and centre against lower-level opposition.

Scoreless after regulation, New England scored three goals in the first half of extra time from their triumvirate of attacking midfielders - Rowe, Nguyen, and Feilhaber - and looked destined to progress to the next round. Their opponents that evening, the Harrisburg City Islanders, had other plans, replying in kind with three of their own in the second of the fifteen minute periods.

Penalty kicks would be required to determine the winner. The MLS side took the advantage over their USL PRO rivals, only to squander it when Rowe missed his kick. The next five were converted, before Feilhaber, the most celebrated player on the pitch, had his saved and the Islanders moved on at the expense of the Revolution.

A dramatic night that only a select few were blessed to witness - the beauty of the Cup.

But enough romance, back to the business of the league.

Having needed Rowe to provide that something different, breaking the deadlock in a slog of a match against Chicago, New England could not find the same against Columbus; a match in which they had the majority of play in their favour.

A standout performance by Crew goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum - six saves on the night, including three top-class stops in the first half - preserved the clean sheets and ensured both left with a point in hand.

Toronto can take heart in New England's road form - six losses in seven tries, their lone away win that stunning result in Los Angeles - 1-3 to the Revs - back at the end of March, though their last attempt, a 3-2 loss in DC, showed many signs of resilience and improvement away from the spacious comforts of Gillette Stadium.

Part Two, looking at tactics and areas for exploitation, will be up later today, and in the meantime, you can find more of James Grossi's insightful ramblings over at Partially Obstructed View and follow him on twitter @Grawsee