Part One, assessing their lineup and form, was posted earlier
Unlike many of the recent opponents that Toronto FC has faced, there is no single player on New England that must be confronted directly. Theirs is a multi-headed threat.
Charlie Davies, leading the line as the sole centre-forward, is the obvious starting point. He has a team-leading four goals on the season, registering one in each of their last four matches.
Davies is a dangerous forward, there is no doubt about that. Tenacious, full of running, and able to pick his runs or find that yard of space needed to cause damage. But what makes the Revolution such a troublesome opponent is the sheer variety of their attack.
As mentioned in Part One, Lee Nguyen has yet to replicate his form from 2014, while Kelyn Rowe has picked up some of that slack, with three goals and two assists already this season. One or both of those two will provide the midfield nous that can slice open an opponent, and each has the ability to threaten from range, if given the time and space to measure their shots.
Those central threats are paired with the sort of quality in width, courtesy of Juan Agudelo and Teal Bunbury, that most MLS clubs would envy. Big, strong, fast, and skillful, those two play as much as wide forwards as they do wingers, either moving in-field towards goal or hugging the touchline to break into wide positions and send balls into the box.
Consider this Bunbury goal against Philadelphia. A bouncing ball in midfield allows Diego Fagundez to nod a ball forward to Davies, who brings it down with his back to goal, drawing in the defender before releasing Fagundez down the right. Note the movement of Bunbury, beginning the play wide on the left, spotting the evolution of the play to charge across field, darting behind his nearest marker to arrive at the near-post for the crucial touch on Fagundez' cross:
And as for Agudelo, with two goals and an assist, well he has yet to replicate his 2013 form, but is capable of the most sublime passages of precocious talent, such as this flicked-finish against Colorado:
Those two alone will cause all sorts of trouble to Toronto's full-backs, who have not been the best on the defensive side of the ball this season.
Adding all those weapons together creates an overpowering, joyful attack, which is a pleasure to watch (most weeks; not this one). Any one of those players can do the ultimate damage, but when they link up it can create a cascading effect that oozes unstoppably past even the sturdiest of defenses. Take Bunbury's goal against the Red Bulls a few weeks ago.
Scott Caldwell collects a ball in midfield, playing up to Nguyen, who attempts to spring Davies further ahead. Unable to get past his defender, Davies tracks the ball out wide, playing back to Nguyen who has drifted to the touchline to give his teammate an option. Meanwhile, Agudelo has caught up with play, continuing his run, which is picked out by a dinked ball from Nguyen towards the New York box.
Agudelo holds up after forcing back the defenders, then drops a ball to Davies, who had made a cutting run into the middle from wide; he in turn plays back to Nguyen, similarly moving in-field. Nguyen dummies that ball to the awaiting Caldwell and then surges towards goal, collecting a return ball, which he touches to the right for a wide open Bunbury:
The New York defenders had no chance, constantly kept off-balance, ball-watching, and unaware of the threat lurking off the back-side. Look at the mess New England made of that back-line shape, a crumbled mass of confused bodies. How on earth does Toronto defend against that?
The key to preventing New England from such dominance is a combination of personal responsibility and teamwork. Each defender must both focus on their task, while also being aware enough to provide assistance should a teammate find themselves in a tough position. A fair chunk of that responsibility must fall on the Toronto midfield, who will need to not concede possession easily and also track back to do their fair share of defensive duty. The full-backs will need help keeping Bunbury and Agudelo wide, while the central duo of Michael Bradley and Benoit Cheyrou will have their hands full dealing with the likes of Nguyen and Rowe.
As if that was not enough, should Toronto succeed in forcing New England out of the middle into those wide positions, the Revolution have two excellent full-backs, who can each overlap and have shown quality in their crossing ability.
Chris Tierney, on the left, has long been one of the best kept secrets in the league, possessor of a miraculous left-foot – his quality from free-kicks and set-pieces is second to none, as Salt Lake discovered recently. And London Woodberry, acquired after an ill-fated homegrown spell in Dallas, has been one of the off-the-radar picks of the season so far, collecting his first assist and not missing a step through four starts. His ball for Davies against the Red Bulls was perfectly whipped to the near-post, allowing the forward to break free his defender for a diving header in the ninth minute:
In dealing with that additional width, it is incumbent upon the Toronto wide midfielders to have two-way performances; they will have a lot of ground to cover this match tracking the movements of the wide attackers and full-backs. While the centre of the TFC defenses will have to watch the movement towards both the near and far-posts carefully to prevent losing their marks.
With so much to consider, New England is especially dangerous in transition, where they can catch an opponent out of position or out of shape. Davies' opener against Orlando is just such an example: Caldwell pouncing on a loose touch from Amobi Okugo to spring Davies with Orlando vulnerable and open.
Frankly, the number options at their disposal is mind-boggling. Four different players scored in their demolition of Salt Lake. The Revolution have four players with two-plus goals and seven goal-scorers in total; compare to Toronto's two and five.
Caldwell's goal that night, the fourth, is exemplary of the number of players who will be in place to get that final touch:
Again the lesson to be taken from that goal is that there is no room for a casual track back or cheating forward in hope of finding a chance. Defensive duties must be paramount for Toronto to hope to glean a point out of their travels.
That said, an old-fashioned shoot-out could be very entertaining if both sides were to go for it.
At first glance, New England would appear to be an average defensive side, having conceded ten goals through ten matches. But it should be considered that five of those goals against came in the first two matches of the season; they have conceded just five through the last eight.
Bobby Shuttleworth already has four clean-sheets on the season, behind only Vancouver's David Ousted and Houston's Tyler Deric for the league lead – he is tied with Portland's Adam Kwarasey and Colorado's Clint Irwin in third.
New England has only conceded four goals in their last six matches, and a good portion of those have come at the expense of the out-of-position Jermaine Jones, who was partially responsible for both of Orlando's late goals last weekend. It was not entirely Jones' fault, the entire side seemed to switch off at the end of a match which they really should have already put to bed.
The first saw Rafael Ramos swing in a ball from the right, picking out Cyle Larin who had found a measure of space between Jones and Farrell, heading home past a helpless Shuttleworth:
And the second saw Aurelien Collin get free of his marker, Jones, on a second attempt after the initial free-kick was cleared to the left, only for Luke Boden to swing in another cross, which Collin put in off the underside of the bar having leapt over Jones, Caldwell, and Andy Dorman to win the header:
In both situations, it was a combination of a lack of pressure on the ball out wide and incomplete marking in the middle that allowed Orlando to strike. Toronto, largely through Jozy Altidore, has that ability to find space in the middle, and has plenty of options to swing service into the area from those wide positions. That may prove the most fruitful tact against the solid Revolution.
Also worth attempting to exploit is a lack of pace on the New England back-line. Neither Jones, Farrell, nor Jose Goncalves, should he return, are particularly fleet-footed. And if they can be caught facing the wrong direction with a quick ball, as Mike Grella's header forward testified, Toronto could find some fortune:
It was Sacha Kljestan who got the important final touch, rounding the onrushing Shuttleworth to tap into the open net. The header caught both Jones and Tierney facing forward – Farrell was nowhere to be seen – with Dorman, tracking Kljestan's run from deep, the only defender tuned into the threat.
Again, Toronto potentially has the talent, through the likes of Sebastian Giovinco, Jonathan Osorio, and Bradley to play those balls in behind the back-line.
And if TFC can act quickly enough to counter with the Revolution full-backs committed up-field, such plays get even easier.
One final point. Two of the ten goals New England has conceded have come from the penalty spot, which is indicative of a lack of calm at the back. The first foul was committed by Juan Agudelo, who has no business defending in his own area – a clever free-kick or short-corner could catch a defending forward out, prompting such a risk. While the second came when Caldwell caught Clarence Goodson with a kick on the ankle.
The message is to get into the area and hang around long enough to invite such challenges.
Or Toronto could just do something like this – Seattle's third from the opening match of the season:
Points of Interest
Last Meeting: October 25, 2014 New England 1: Toronto 0
The two sides last met at the end of last season with the home-side Revolution coming out with a 1-0 victory, courtesy of a Lee Nguyen strike in the 36th minute. TFC had cause to be bitter, as to their minds Chris Tierney was off-side as he received a ball on the left. Toronto stopped playing, but Nguyen did not, tucking a right-footed shot into the corner of the net.
The two clubs have met nineteen times in MLS play. New England winning eight, Toronto four, and drawing the remaining seven matches.
At Gillette Stadium, the Revolution have dominated the series, with six wins to TFC's two, a further two matches ended level.
New England have won the last three matches and are unbeaten in four, stretching back to a TFC win in 2013, where an early goal from Matias Laba stood the test of Revolution pressure, holding up for a 0-1 result – it was Toronto's second-straight win in New England, a streak ended by the October result above.
In a storyline worth watching, Charlie Davies will be playing against former Sochaux teammate, Damien Perquis, offering this insight prior to the match: "I’m really looking forward to playing against him. It’s been a long time and it’s going to be one of those things where he’s going to do everything he can to knock me off my game, and I’m going to do everything I can to put the ball in the back of the net."
As always, the Revolution's Far Post Podcast is an excellent listen, one of the best put together by a club.