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Revolution face tough challenge in Montreal Impact

Marco Di Vaio a concern for New England

Montreal’s Marco Di Vaio leads Major League Soccer with 15 goals, so the Revolution must be on guard.

paul chiasson/associated press/the canadian press

Montreal’s Marco Di Vaio leads Major League Soccer with 15 goals, so the Revolution must be on guard.

The Revolution looked like a team that belonged in the playoffs for all of 20 minutes in the 1-1 draw with Toronto FC Aug. 30 at BMO Field.

Winners of two straight entering the match, the Revolution claimed an early 1-0 lead on Diego Fagundez’s second goal in two matches (and fourth in his last seven), and then, inexplicably, downshifted.

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Although it took Toronto FC until the waning moments of the first half to net the tying goal, it was a strike that came with little surprise, given the Revolution’s lack of consistent possession.

Each team walked away with a point, but it was one of those games you couldn’t help but feel the Revolution (10-9-7, 37 points), who currently sit in a tie for the fifth and final playoff position in the Eastern Conference, let get away.

However, a win in Sunday’s matchup with the conference-leading Montreal Impact (12-7-6, 42 points) at Gillette Stadium would certainly ease some of the frustration.

“I was a little disappointed with the performance overall — not the points, but the way we played,” coach Jay Heaps said on Thursday. “Toronto worked their tails off. They didn’t give us anything. Fortunately, we started very well. Then, about 20 minutes into the game, it started to slip away from us. It then became more about energy, fight, and passion, rather than a football game.”

The Impact and Revolution enter Sunday’s game — which will be played on a natural surface (laid down ahead of Tuesday night’s game between Brazil and Portugal) — unbeaten in their previous three games and coming off draws.

Montreal knocked off D.C. United and Houston before playing to a scoreless draw with Philadelphia.

This will be New England’s first look at an Impact offense that leads the conference with 41 goals. A key to Montreal’s potent attack has been forward Marco Di Vaio, who leads MLS with 15 goals this season.

“[Di Vaio] is one of the best strikers in the game,” said Heaps. “He just always has a knack and an ability to find a little bit of space, and when he does he’s clinical. They know how to get him the ball where he’s going to be dangerous.

“It’s definitely difficult because [Di Vaio] plays that line so well. He’ll be offside five times, but it takes him one chance to be just onside, timing it perfectly. He’s made a career out of it.

“I don’t think there’s anyone better at it . . . in the world.”

The Revolution will need to remember to keep their heads on a swivel and be prepared for Di Vaio, who has four goals in his last three matches, to make a run each time the Impact send a ball over the top.

However, if there’s a defensive unit in the Eastern Conference that’s qualified to slow down the Italian-born striker, it is New England’s. The Revolution enter the match first in goals-against average (0.96), goals allowed (25), and shutouts (12).

“Last year we knew [Di Vaio] was one of the key players for them,” said Revolution goalkeeper Matt Reis. “He always tries to play that high line and he looks for balls over the top, which is something that their team does very well.

“We’ll have to pay attention to that, and hopefully that will make them be chasing us more than we’ll have to worry about them.”

After sending out the same starting lineup for three straight matches, Heaps will likely have to shake things up, with Juan Agudelo listed as out on the injury report because of a right hamstring strain.

The Revolution are just 3-4-1 this season without the 20-year-old Colombian-born striker. In the eight games Agudelo — who has six goals — has played this season, the Revolution have outscored opponents, 20-6.

Jerry Bengtson (Honduras) and the newly acquired O’Brian Woodbine (Jamaica) will miss the game while representing their countries in World Cup qualifiers.

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