Following a spirited season-opening draw at FC Dallas, the New England Revolution head home for their first of 17 matches at Gillette Stadium, hosting Eastern Conference contender Columbus Crew SC on Saturday.
The Crew earned a hard-fought 1-1 tie against the New York Red Bulls last weekend, showing poise after falling behind in the opening minutes to battle back. The Revs faced a similar scenario in Dallas and also got stronger on both ends as the game progressed.
Can the Revolution turn some of those more positive points into their first victory? Here’s how they can do it.
■ Strong play on the wings
In their opener, the Crew were repeatedly victimized by crosses into the box by Red Bulls wings. New York’s goal came off a cross into the box and another disallowed goal stemmed from a similar play.
The Revolution have a bevy of talented wingers in Cristian Penilla, Diego Fagundez, and Teal Bunbury who can all swing crosses into the middle on the attack. With Carles Gil’s ability to spread the ball into wide areas for these wingers, the Revs can create a constant stream of scoring chances against the Crew.
■ Not so ‘Afful’
Crew fullback Harrison Afful is a clear catalyst of the Columbus attack with his speed and creativity. Columbus is known for using its outside backs to push forward offensively and create chances, and Afful’s speed and clinical ability make him a perfect fit in this system.
In addition, Afful provides a threat in transition and on the counter attack for Columbus. New England will have to find a way to take Afful out of the game to limit his damage.
■ Oh, pressure!
The Revolution made Dallas uncomfortable at times with a high press. Dallas was forced to pass the ball around in its own half for much of the game just looking for a way to break through the layered Revolution defense.
In Columbus’ opener, the Red Bulls kept a constant offensive pressure that forced errant passes and a disorganized approach from the Crew defense. The way New England played in the second half last week is exactly now they should approach Saturday’s match against an equally speedy Columbus side.
Crew at Revolution
When, where: Saturday, 2 p.m., Gillette Stadium, Foxborough
TV, radio: NBCSB, WBZ-FM (98.5)
Formations: Revolution — 4-2-3-1; Crew — 4-2-3-1
Goalkeepers: Revolution — Brad Knighton; Crew — Zack Steffen
Coaches: Revolution — Brad Friedel; Crew — Caleb Porter
Referee: Dave Gantar
Out: Revolution — D Andrew Farrell (eye); Crew — D Milton Valenzuela (knee), M Niko Hansen (thigh).
Miscellany: Columbus leads the all-time series, 36-23-13, including a 5-3-2 mark in the last 10 meetings . . . New England committed a league-most 24 fouls in their draw with FC Dallas last week while Columbus only had 11 in a tie with New York Red Bulls . . . The Revolution are unbeaten in their last 12 home openers, posting an 8-0-4 record since a 2-1 loss to Chicago on April 30, 2006.
Dan can be reached at email@example.com; follow him on Twitter @DanielRShulman.