The Revolution emerged from a nine-game winless streak to jump-start a four-game unbeaten streak sparked by an uptick in defensive play.
On Saturday, the Revolution will travel to Ontario to battle Toronto FC, a team that has suffered a significant defensive regression this season.
Injuries to key players have taken a toll on Toronto, a club that already has lost three times as many games as it did last season. Toronto has had a patchwork defense for much of the year and has allowed 57 goals, tied for fourth most in MLS.
“I think it’s going to be an exciting one,” said Revolution coach Brad Friedel. “We need to win, they need to win. Both teams are going to want to attack. Hopefully we can do our defensive work resolutely and hopefully we can get off to a good start.”
Poor defending was on display by Toronto the last time it faced New England back on May 12, a 3-2 win for the Revolution. Cristian Penilla struck twice in the opening 10 minutes for the Revolution, both times off sloppy turnovers.
A late comeback by Toronto was halted when Sebastian Giovinco was sent off for grabbing the face of New England midfielder Wilfried Zahibo.
“They’re a team that likes to build out of the back and we’re a team that likes to press,” said Friedel. “It’s going to be one team’s system against another’s and hopefully we can force them into quite a few mistakes.”
Since that game, New England has gone 3-7-9 while Toronto has gone 6-9-5. But the Revolution remain positive about a postseason berth.
They are in eighth place in the Eastern Conference, tied in points with seventh-place D.C. United and 5 behind Montreal for the final playoff spot.
“It’s in our grasp,” said Friedel. “We have the game in hand on [Montreal] and we play them at home on the last day of the season. We will need a little bit of help in one or two of the games with D.C., but it’s still all there to play for.”
New England’s defensive turnaround has been led by the arrival of center-back Michael Mancienne and the insertion of veteran goalkeeper Brad Knighton into the lineup. Since starting Sept. 5 at New York City, Knighton has stopped 83.3 percent of shots he has faced, tops for MLS goalkeepers this month.
Mancienne has solidified the New England back line, though he had a couple of regrettable moments against Chicago last weekend in a 2-2 tie. He was beaten on the Fire’s opening goal by Aleksandar Katai, then booted in an own goal. The result was disappointing, given New England’s 66 percent of possession and 515-273 edge in passes completed.
“We felt like we dropped 2 points at home,” said Knighton. “Everything is under a microscope right now. Everything has got to be done to the best it can be done.”
Revolution vs. Toronto
■ When, where: Saturday, 7:30 p.m., at BMO Field, Toronto.
■ TV, radio: NBCSB, WBZ-FM (98.5).
■ Coaches: Revolution — Brad Friedel; Toronto — Greg Vanney.
■ Formations: Revolution — 4-3-3; Toronto — 3-5-2.
■ Goalkeepers: Revolution — Brad Knighton; Toronto — Alex Bono.
■ Referee: Ismail Elfath.
■ Out: Revolution — D Chris Tierney (knee), D Antonio Delamea (suspended); Toronto — D Drew Moor (calf), F Sebastian Giovinco (calf), F Jozy Altidore (ankle).
■ Miscellany: Toronto is on pace for a franchise-worst 66 goals against after allowing a conference-best 37 last season . . . This will be the 29th meeting between the teams, with New England holding a 13-6-9 edge (but only 3-4-5 in Toronto) . . . Of Toronto’s five losses last season, New England accounted for two, both at Gillette Stadium.
Dan Shulman can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @DanielRShulman.