After snapping a four-game winless run with their first victory of the season last Saturday, the Revolution will try to turn that momentum into a road result against the Eastern Conference front-running Columbus Crew on Saturday night.
The Revolution’s reversal of fortune was made possible by a changed lineup, new formation, and aggressive attacking approach in a 2-1 victory over Minnesota.
But the Crew have been tough defensively this season, keeping three clean sheets, including a 2-0 road win over New England. How can the Revolution break down the Crew backline?
■ It’s Afful-y different
With Harrison Afful out at least six weeks with a fractured jaw, a big part of the Crew’s offensive and defensive schemes will have to change.
The Crew are still talented without the Ghanaian international, featuring the creative Federico Higuain and the clinical Gyasi Zardes. But the element of that overlapping run down the wings is less of a threat than it was in New England’s first matchup with Columbus.
New England can narrow its defensive focus to target Columbus’s two offensive talismans, making it a simpler approach this time.
“They have an identity,” said Revolution defender Andrew Farrell. “They have really good players around. Denying [Zardes] service is important, and being tight to him is really important.”
■ Be aggressive
It worked last Saturday, and it was the opposite approach that resulted in home losses to Columbus and Cincinnati.
So, why do anything else?
The Revolution upped the speed on the wings, employing Brandon Bye and DeJuan Jones — two of the fastest players to come out the MLS SuperDraft in recent years. It paid off with Bye scoring the winner and Jones picking up an assist and some confidence on the ball.
You can expect a similar tactical alignment Saturday night at Columbus with an emphasis on stringing passes together moving forward.
“We felt a little more comfortable once we got four, five, six passes connected,” said Revolution striker Juan Agudelo. “We started getting that belief closer and closer to the goal and we were able to get some shots off.”
■ Keep a high line
We’ve said this before. But it’s crucial against Columbus.
Yes, the Revolution boast speed throughout the field, but the Crew attack is known for sneaking in behind the defense. The Revolution could benefit from playing the offside trap to frustrate Zardes. In addition, the high line would restrict Columbus’s lateral movement upfield, forcing a slower buildup that’s easier to break down.
“We got to see the subtle nuances Caleb [Porter] is trying to instill,” the Revolution’s Brad Friedel said of his coaching counterpart. “He’s getting the best out of Higuain, getting the best out of Zardes. Now that we’ve seen them once we’ll make a couple of adjustments.”