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Know Your Enemy: New England Revolution – Meeting the Third

A single installment of the series previewing TFC's upcoming opponent, New England Revolution, ahead of Sunday's match in Toronto

Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Now the real fun begins.

All year questions have been asked, expectations raised and lowered, but with the final two months of the season now at hand, those hypotheticals and extrapolations will make way to cold, hard facts.

Eight games are all that remain to determine which teams will move on in pursuit of the MLS Cup.

Toronto sit well positioned at fifth in the East at the start of the weekend, seven points off top spot, but a mere five off second (at least until the Red Bulls won on Friday night, extending the gap to eight as they overtook DC for first).

That rank may not be as high as some would like, there have been many disappointments over the course of the season, but TFC are firmly in the playoff picture; for now, it must be said.

The loss in Seattle, short-handed and 'forced' into playing that three-man back-line, was not a surprise. That they did so well, setting themselves up to possibly take a single point, was however.

And that perhaps is the story of the season: Toronto has done what one would expect.

Consider that there are only two matches were one definitely expected more – the loss against Houston in the home opener and the June loss to New York City FC, again at home.

The other disappointments were all foreseeable: Drawing 0-0 against a tightly-packed DC United? Acceptable. Could they have done better than to draw 4-4 against City at Yankee Stadium? Maybe. Should they have put up a better fight against a short-handed Sporting KC in August? Probably.

It is true that there have been struggles on the road – dour performances away to LA, New England, and the Red Bulls – but in many ways those are to be expected. MLS is a difficult league within which to travel.

But even the most miserly and cynical of Toronto fans would have to say that as things stand, the club is poised to surpass a milestone, one that has more oft been a millstone than a marker on the road to further, higher aims.

Toronto's fate will be decided in those eight matches; fortunately for them, six of those games will be played at home, leaving 18 possible points well within grasp. And as for the two away games – to New York City and Montreal – they too are winnable.

The best advice is to take the games, regardless of where or when they are played, one at a time. Toronto may still be a little beat up, the availability of several players in doubt, and the weekend brings with it a mighty hurdle.

The match itself is not 'must win', but given the tendency towards desperation on the Toronto sporting scene, in some ways it is. TFC will not only be facing their opponent, but also duelling with the lumbering ghost of seasons past.

A win on the weekend would go a long way towards banishing that spirit.

This weekend's foes, the New England Revolution, will have something to say about that, however, and as such, a closer look is in order.

Recent Form

Unfortunately for TFC, this match-up comes at a bad time, as New England are one of the form teams in the league.

Since the encounter between the sides at the start of August, Jay Heaps' side has been on a tear, winning  their last four matches and unbeaten in six.

Prior to that, the Revolution had just emerged from a mid-summer swoon that saw them drop five-straight matches, but a 1-0 win over New York City and a draw against Chicago, hardly the fiercest of competition, allowed them a reprieve.

The 3-1 win over Toronto, aided in part by Jozy Altidore's red card, further boosted their confidence.

They would back that up with a second-straight home win, beating Houston 2-0 – on second half goals from Jose Goncalves and Juan Agudelo, the latter coming in the 88th minute to shore up the result – before following that up with a sneaky 0-1 road victory in Philadelphia – Diego Fagundez stealing the points in the 51st minute.

And last weekend they handily dispatched with expansion stragglers, Orlando City, handing the visiting side a 3-0 defeat – Fagundez again opened the scoring, while Agudelo and Chris Tierney added padding in the final ten minutes of play, scoring in the 84th and 94th minutes, respectively.

A pair of bye-weeks in August should have New England rested and healthy as they look to surge up the Eastern Conference ahead of the October deadline.

New England have indeed come to life and have looked good while doing so, but that they have hardly faced the most celebrated of opposition should be kept in mind.

Last Meeting

August 1 New England 3: Toronto 1

New England would take full points from the second meeting between the clubs having shared the spoils in a 1-1 draw on May 16.

Charlie Davies was on hand at the right-post to take advantage of some lax TFC defending on a New England free-kick in the 35th minute, bundling in a Kelyn Rowe pass after Tierney's service found Rowe's unmatched back-side run.

The host's efforts were aided in the 39th minute by a petulant red card to Altidore, who kicked out at Goncalves in frustration after the two battled over an aerial ball.

Another moment of hesitation from the defense proved costly in the waning minutes of the half when Damien Perquis was adjudged to have held back Rowe in the area on a later free-kick, prompting the referee to point to the spot. Lee Nguyen duly converted the chance in the 44th minute.

Greg Vanney then removed Sebastian Giovinco from the field at half-time. He was nursing a knock, but without their two first-choice strikers and short a man, Toronto would be hard pressed to come back.

And the Revolution added a third, putting the game out of reach in the 62nd minute, Davies scoring his second of the night when a Tierney free-kick was poorly dealt with, falling to Davies after some ramshackle defending.

Jonathan Osorio would pull one back for TFC in the 75th minute when Marky Delgado found him in space atop the area, beating Bobby Shuttleworth with a right-footed effort.

But it was too little, too late, New England extending their unbeaten run against Toronto to six.

Projected Lineup

Heading into Sunday's match, Heaps has a full complement of players at his disposal. Only Darrius Barnes, a long term-injury absence with a torn patellar tendon, is out.

The implication being, Toronto can expect to face a first-choice lineup from the Revolution. The only question heading in, is which 'first-choice' look Heaps is going to throw at them.

The back-line and attack is predictable, but the question marks arise in front of the back-four and in the wide midfield positions.

In the first case, the candidates for inclusion are Scott Caldwell, Jermaine Jones, Daigo Kobayashi, and Andy Dorman. And in the latter, it is a choice between Rowe and Fagundez or Teal Bunbury and Agudelo; some mix of the two is also possible.

Their projected lineup is as follows: Bobby Shuttleworth in goal; from right to left – Jeremy Hall, Andrew Farrell, Jose Goncalves, and Chris Tierney across the back-line; sitting in midfield Scott Caldwell and Jermaine Jones, with Kelyn Rowe, Lee Nguyen, and Diego Fagundez further afield; Charlie Davies will top the formation.

football formations

In goal, Brad Knighton is unlikely to dislodge Shuttleworth from the net, while Kevin Alston and London Woodberry have both seen some time at full-back.

In front of the back four, Caldwell has been the regular, with Dorman offering more tenacity and a veteran presence while Kobayashi is able to provide a bit more in the attacking half. Jones has been hampered by injuries all season, but if he is good to go after a recent national team call-up, he should slot right back in for the stretch run. If he is rested, expect Kobayashi to get the nod on recent form.

Rowe and Fagundez provide a more mobile option, while Agudelo and Bunbury offer more in the power aspects of the game. Regardless of who starts, Toronto will likely be seeing all four of them at some point in the match, one substituting for the other.

Additional Notes

A few of the trends that have popped up in recent weeks while observing the Revolution; seeing how results have gone, there is far more insight on their attack:

Part of the reason that Fagundez and Rowe have been preferred to Agudelo and Bunbury in recent weeks, is that the two are particularly adept at New England's slash and move style game, getting the best out of Davies and Nguyen. That is not to say that Bunbury and Agudelo are not capable, but that theirs is more of a direct, physical style.

Consider Fagundez' goal from the weekend against Orlando:

A long ball out of the back from Tierney is touched out wide by Davies for Nguyen, who had drifted out towards the touch-line. Having drawn the defenders attention, Nguyen is then able to chip a ball in for the streaking Fagundez, who had reacted to the movement wide by surging towards the middle. He brings it down before beating Tally Hall with a left-footer:

He did nearly the exact same thing against Philadelphia. Rowe can do the same on the opposite flank, so what Toronto will need to do is be aware that when Nguyen drifts, the runner from the midfield will be surging into the spaces opened in the middle by the drift.

That shiftiness reared it's head in another goal that same match, when Agudelo doubled the lead. The key moment from this play is not the pass out wide to Bunbury, nor the ball back inside that found Agudelo arriving unfettered at the back-side, but the initial hesitation by Nguyen, shifting from side to side, in search of the best option:

That ability to play to either side and the lineup possibilities that see neither side the obvious, primary focus, regardless of form or fitness, makes New England devastating. For Toronto to prevent being split wide open, they must not only be aware of that outside-in movement, but also step up to pressure the ball-carrier, shutting down those options and forcing him into making the decision Toronto wants.

This will be a tactical battle over who controls which lanes are open. Toronto will need all their sharpness about them, especially across the midfield, where they will be responsible for providing the needed defense cover, lest the back-line by overwhelmed.

The same concern can manifest itself in shots, Nguyen in particular is fond of balancing a defender or a keeper one way with the intention of positioning them to his liking, before cutting back and making use of the space created for a chance, much like Fagundez did on his goal in Philadelphia.

One aspect that makes both the aforementioned points even more devastating is the sheer speed, both of foot and of mind, that New England brings to their attack. An inopportune turnover, catching the opponent's formation leaning forward, is all they need, as was evidenced by Agudelo's goal against Houston.

Toronto will have to guard possession jealously.

A few minor notes, before one final concern, are shots from distance and the left-back joining in the attack. All of their attacking options can and will attempt shots from any distance or angle and are capable of finding the target. In addition to the left-midfield-winger, the left-back, Tierney, will also jump into the attack in much the same manner, either down the line for width, or cutting in-field, as he did to score against Orlando.

Somewhat lacking from recent weeks is their use of width to steal space before swinging in crosses from the flanks, courtesy of either Tierney or Woodberry. Perhaps that Agudelo and Bunbury have been secondary options could explain this change. That said, Toronto cannot sleep on that risk.

Previously mentioned methods – confronting the ball and tracking those runs, with the aid of the midfield – should help mitigate such risks.

The one final point to make is that, as Toronto is well aware, if the Revolution are not able to break an opponent down in the run of play, they will do so from dead-ball situations. All three of Toronto's goals allowed in August came from such situations.

They take great pride in their ingenuity from training, whether on free-kicks or short corners. The first goal from the August meeting, where Rowe was able to curl wide and Davies dashed to the near-post, caught Toronto napping, while against Houston, it was a short-corner routine that pulled the Dynamo over, opening up Goncalves at the back-stick:

Toronto's back-line has been a subject of some concern all season. Sunday will be another difficult task. New England does not oversize them, but it is their quickness that will require attention.

That the goal scored by TFC was the only one New England has conceded in this current four-match spell is both a mark of respect to the Revs form of late, but also the calibre of their opponents. For those in search of more detailed expositions from earlier in the season, check out the previous editions of KYE (Meeting the First – Parts One and Two, Meeting the Second)

There are a few points that can be made, however. One of which comes from that Osorio goal.

Some good possession and interplay from Jay Chapman, Delgado, and Osorio find a pocket of space on the right, from where Delgado is able to pick out Osorio at the top of the box:

Orlando's Bryan Rochez caused some trouble on a few occasions. Once when a long ball played him in. He was outnumbered by two defenders, but with a little support, he may have done damage. The other saw the back-line hold off, allowing time for a shot

The model here being that New England's back-line can be a little slow to confront the ball, that corridor between the defenders and the midfield can get stretched, especially with a quick ball forward, exposing plenty of space in that area of the field.

Toronto has plenty of weapons capable from those ranges. Look for a late-arriving Michael Bradley to find some purchase.

New England has also shown themselves to be vulnerable to a bit of set-piece trickery themselves, clearly troubled by a Philadelphia short-corner, only for Cristian Maidana to only find the outside-netting:

Everyone knows what TFC does with free-kicks, that is no secret, but with Sebastian Giovinco possibly unavailable, now is the perfect time to mix things up, catch the Revolution napping. Eriq Zavaleta got on the end of a corner last weekend, who's turn is it this week?

One final note, more a general thing, but expect Jozy Altidore to be fired up for this one. He is mild-mannered for the most part, but given his struggles against New England this season – the hamstring in the first and the red card in the second – one can imagine him itching to get out there.

Goncalves will no doubt seek to wind him up again, but with Toronto at home and the crowd with them, perhaps events will fall the other way this time.

This is the third and final regular season meeting between the clubs this season. New England has gone unbeaten through both, stretching their undefeated run against TFC to six matches, dating back to August of 2013, when a Matias Laba goal saw Toronto win in Foxborough.

The clubs have met 21 times in MLS play, with New England winning nine, Toronto four, and eight ending in draws. Nine of those matches have been played in Toronto, where TFC have won two, New England two, and five were drawn.

The Revolution have won their last two trips to BMO Field and are unbeaten in five, with three draws, stretching to a 1-0 TFC win in 2010 where Chad Barrett was the only goal-scorer.