The Revolution open up a three-game homestand Saturday when defending MLS Cup champion Atlanta United visits Gillette Stadium.
Despite Atlanta’s impressive form over its first two years in MLS, it is winless (0-2-2) to start 2019 and has scored only two goals in four games.
New England (1-4-1), meanwhile, resumed its run of misfortune with an all-around frustrating defeat at Columbus last Saturday, losing 1-0 in a game in which captain Michael Mancienne was sent off for a rough tackle on Columbus’s Federico Higuain.
How can New England finally right the ship? Here are some keys to Saturday’s game:
There are layers to this one, but it’s the biggest reason that New England’s offense has been lacking.
First, there is a revolving door at striker, with five players having seen time up top. That has caused somewhat of a chemistry issue. Still, there’s almost a sense of hesitation from the newest players about making runs into the middle.
Second, Teal Bunbury has dropped off a bit this season, but there’s little consistency to where he plays. His role has stretched from winger to striker. While he should be able to adjust, it can be tough for a player to find his groove when he’s taking on multiple roles.
Third, Gil has created the most chances and won an absurd amount of duels, so the formation should cater to his ability and put him in position to launch the attack forward and get the strikers involved.
Moral of the story: The Revolution must get more involved offensively and shoot the ball.
“We have to be a little bit better at everything,” said midfielder Scott Caldwell. “Especially getting into the attack. That’s no secret. There were several good chances, but if we’re creating more, then the result’s different.”
There are still a bunch of talented players on this team — Josef Martinez, Darlington Nagbe, Ezequiel Barco, to name a few — but United have struggled without that central element in Almiron.
Almiron’s speed was difficult for New England to deal with in the past. Without him in the mix, the game plan could match what the Revolution did to defend Minnesota. They can mark Martinez and Barco up front while forcing Atlanta to play out of the back.
“From front to back, they have a really good team,” said Revolution defender Andrew Farrell. “Tough team, really good experience. They’re going to be up for it, so we’ve got to be ready.”
The abundance of rookie referees has started to become an issue for New England. Last week, there was a controversial free kick and a missed offside call on Columbus’s lone goal; against Cincinnati three weeks ago, there was a lot of inconsistency.
This shouldn’t serve as an excuse, but it does affect how the Revolution play. They must be mindful of this and should not be forced into needless or lazy fouls — or, better yet, not let officiating dictate the flow of the game.