It’s almost over.
Nine games remain in TFC’s 2013 campaign - five at home and four on the road.
Last weekend’s draw in DC was an unexpected point, if won through a Dejan Jakovic error, rather than any particular quality – it was tough to watch.
But it’s back to the pitch for a rare Friday night fixture and the grand old Ex is in town – don’t eat the cronut burger – ensuring a carnival atmosphere around the stadium, if not within.
A familiar foe awaits – it has been a mere 26 days since the two last met; much of what was written then holds true, but as usual a closer, although brief, look at the enemy is in order.
Jay Heaps’ Revolution enter the match tied with Houston for the fifth and final Eastern Conference playoff spot on 36 points – they hold both the second and third tie-breakers (goals for and goal differential) as the two are also tied with ten wins each (the first tie-break).
Riding a two-match winning streak and hopeful of stretching it to three, New England will be eager to avenge the 0-1 loss to Toronto at the beginning of the month – a loss that ended a previous two-match winning streak by the Revs.
A heavy defeat in Kansas City followed.
3-0 as pair of Kei Kamara goals put the home side in front before a 92nd minute free-kick from former Revs teammate, Benny Feilhaber, after Andy Dorman had been red-carded, proved the dagger.
They responded a week on with a 2-0 win over Chicago back at home – on second half goals from Juan Agudelo and Kelyn Rowe in a fractious match with both teams desperate for points and position. Saer Sene and Bakary Soumare were red-carded post-match for an incident involving assistant coaches and trainers alike.
This past weekend, they laid a 5-1 walloping on Philadelphia, scoring four unanswered, second-half goals after a contentious decision denied Philadelphia the lead shortly after tying the match in the 50th minute.
Rowe had given New England the lead in the 26th minute, then Danny Cruz leveled shortly after the restart. Sebastien Le Toux’s goal shortly thereafter was correctly ruled offside, before Conor Casey was denied a valid goal – the ball lay available at the feet of Matt Reis for Casey to turn in, but the referee assumed it was kicked out of the keeper’s hands.
Agudelo was awarded a goal in the 58th minute – it was an own-goal off Amobi Okugo, but MLS is very lenient in it’s attribution of statistics; Rowe lashed in an amazing long distance strike in the 65th; then Diego Fagundez got in on the act in the 71st, before Agudelo struck again in the 73rd as Philly crumbled.
Through those two wins, New England has outscored their opponents 7-1, but both came at home, where the Revolution are strongest.
Their road form of late has been good – having won in DC and Columbus before losing in KC – but overall they have found playing away a far more difficult prospect, conceding 16 of their 24 goals against on the road.
August 4 – New England 0: Toronto 1
Matias Laba’s 2nd minute individual effort was enough to see TFC pick up their second away win of the season, with the help of goal-line blocks – from Ashtone Morgan and Richard Eckersley – as well as the usual heroics from Joe Bendik in goal.
Impressive rookie holding midfielder Scott Caldwell said this week, "Looking back at that game, we had some good stuff, but we dug ourselves a hole real early; … we know we can play with them, we know we can create chances, so we just have to take the positives from that game, make sure we do those well again, and improve what we didn’t do so well on."
New England had won the previous meeting - also at Gillette Stadium - 2-0.
Despite the short turnaround – New England played on Sunday – it is unlikely Heaps will make many changes to his starting eleven.
Saer Sene is available, having served his one-game red-card suspension and looks set to replace Chad Barret in the starting lineup.
Chris Tierney is still listed as questionable with some hip irritation, but he started last match with that same designation.
Their projected lineup is as follows: Matt Reis in goal; from right to left – Andrew Farrell, AJ Soares, Jose Goncalves, and Chris Tierney across the back; Scott Caldwell holding at the base with Saer Sene, Lee Nguyen, Kelyn Rowe, and Diego Fagundez across the midfield; the fit-again Juan Agudelo tops the formation.
Reis has taken over in goal for Bobby Shuttleworth through the last two matches, but either is a possibility. The same can be said for Soares, who replaced Stephen McCarthy after the loss in KC.
Former Red Chad Barrett – much to the delight of one WTR writer - has picked up some increased minutes of late, as has Dimitry Imbongo, though the return of Agudelo and Sene, will likely see them both on the bench.
Charlie Davies, former American International, returned from a brief European stint and has seen limited spot duty for the Revs, while they just announced the signing of Jamaican international defender O’Brian Woodbine, though it is unlikely he will feature any time soon.
Not much too add to the previous incarnations – it has only been three matches after all.
Toronto should watch the movements of Rowe with a particularly keen eye – he has three goals in their last two matches, two of which have come from long-range shots when he was given too much space in the centre of the pitch.
Laba would be a very useful addition to quell that threat, but with him injured, Jeremy Hall and Jonathan Osorio will have to pick up the slack.
Rowe and Nguyen form a dynamic partnership in the middle, moving the ball incredibly well; in recent weeks, Nguyen seems to be operating as the deeper of the two, with Rowe free to get forward - hence the goal-scoring.
MLSsoccer.com’s Anatomy of a Goal-style breakdown of his stunner and second against Philly - mind the vacuum.
While the middle of the park is strong, the real trouble comes from the wings and up front.
Fagundez and Sene used to regularly swap wings, but in recent matches they have gone fully inverted – the left-footed Sene playing on the right and the right-footed Fagundez on the left, enhancing their finishing ability when they cut in-field, attacking from wide positions.
Added to that danger is the silky skill, the incredulously ingenious audacity – his hacky-sack finish – and the roaming movement of Stoke City-bound, Agudelo - dragging defenders out wide, while Sene and Fagundez move in and Rowe pushes.
This goal is a great example of New England’s outside-in attack.
Imbongo, a striker playing on the flank, drifts out wide right, then turns in-field. Nguyen works the ball out wide to Fagundez on the left, who in turn moves back in-field.
Agudelo also has three goals in two matches since returning to the lineup against Chicago.
In part due to that attack from wide approach, New England, on the defensive side, continue to struggle with crosses from wide areas.
With the outside mids pushing forward, full-backs can be isolated – much like Toronto’s Morgan has been forced to deal with – and Kamara’s brace perfectly exemplifies this weakness.
A sound defensive team – Heaps, a former defender himself, has probably made the conscious decision to risk the vulnerability – would have some sort of cover for a man marking the ever-dangerous Kamara, especially Kevin Alston, who missed so much action due to his illness (side note – great to see him back on the pitch).
The returning Alston was beaten with a pair of towering leaps – it is always tough for a flat-footed defender to contest a moving forward – and a defensively positioned wide midfielder would have pressured the cross from Soony Saad more or interjected themselves into Kamara’s build up, slowing him down a little at least.
New England has never won in six trips to Toronto – though they have picked up four draws, including three 2-2 affairs.
Their last two visits ended with that score-line, in July of 2012 (first-half goals from Danny Koevermans and Ryan Johnson, before Blake Brettschneider drew one back in the 71st and Chris Tierney leveled in the 94th minute from a Milos Kocic error) and October of 2011 (when goals from Monsef Zerka and Milton Caraglio before the half cancelled a 20th minute Nick Soolsman strike, only for Koevermans to level in the 82nd).
And who can forget the epic conclusion from 2007, when Danny Dichio’s 92nd minute equalizer and Collin Samuel’s strike in the 59th, drew TFC back from Michael Parkhurst and Taylor Twellman goals either side of half-time to send the jubilant crowd into raptures and a post game pitch invasion on the final day of the season.
Canada itself has been unkind, with the Revs win in Montreal last season their only victory north of the border – they have lost six and tied five of their other travels.
The Far Post Podcast comes highly-recommended; for a stodgy MLS 1.0 club, they sure do push the envelope – presented by Papa Gino’s Pizza.