The New England Revolution are unbeaten in their last eight games, even briefly jumping into playoff position with a tie last Friday after enduring one of the worst starts in team history.
But over that span, New England has emerged victorious only four times — all against Western Conference foes — while earning ties in four crucial Eastern Conference matchups.
Beginning at Gillette Stadium against the Vancouver Whitecaps on Wednesday, the remainder of July marks a critical juncture in the season as New England will look to turn those draws into wins and maximize points ahead of the stretch run.
The Revolution have played with immense confidence, but some issues still linger.
Here’s what to look for Wednesday:
Ready, set, go
While New England is conceding fewer goals, especially in open play, the set-piece defending has left a lot to be desired and has directly led to some of its draws.
Last Friday, D.C. United got the equalizer via a free kick, and in back-to-back 2-1 victories over Colorado and Houston, both opposing goals came off corner kicks.
New England is doing the tough part in defending well from open play, but allowing set-piece goals in three straight games is not encouraging.
Defending set pieces should be a point of emphasis moving forward, having already cost New England clean sheets and, worse, wins even prior to Bruce Arena taking over as coach.
High and tight
Vancouver’s defensive struggles over its current six-game winless drought have stemmed from the back line staying too tight in the box and too high in the open field. This has made Vancouver vulnerable to conceding on shots from distance, deflections from crowding the goalkeeper, and counterattacks.
The Revolution have proven to be dangerous on the counterattack all season but have traditionally been wary of letting loose from distance. With an unsure keeper in Zac MacMath in the net and a defense that has been carved up over the past three weeks, Vancouver’s confidence is wavering.
New England should take advantage of any offensive opportunity as a blowout win would help better its minus-14 goal-differential.
Put a Bou on it
New England’s recent acquisition — Argentinian striker Gustavo Bou — is eligible to play after receiving his P-1 visa and traveling with the club to Washington over the weekend. Bou, 29, was signed from Mexican club Tijuana for $12 million in transfer fees and guaranteed salary. He is a proven goal scorer who should help heal the team’s finishing woes.
It will be interesting to see how his presence affects the rest of the team. On one hand, Bou is a veteran who can provide an offensive boost and make those around him better. But other players will have to respond professionally to losing playing time, possibly including a red-hot Teal Bunbury.
Bou could make an immediate impact, but his adjustment to life in MLS will need to go smoothly.
Whitecaps vs. Revolution
When, where: Wednesday, 7 p.m., Gillette Stadium, Foxborough.
TV, radio: NBCSB, WBZ-FM (98.5).
Formations: Whitecaps — 3-5-2; Revolution — 4-2-3-1.
Goalkeepers: Whitecaps — Zac MacMath; Revolution — Matt Turner.
Coaches: Whitecaps — Marc Dos Santos; Revolution — Bruce Arena.
Referee: Robert Sibiga.
Out: Whitecaps — D Ali Adnan (suspended), D Jasser Khemiri (knee), M David Norman Jr. (foot); Revolution — M Wilfried Zahibo (suspended).
Miscellany: New England is unbeaten in its last three matches with Vancouver (2-0-1) since a June 2015 loss at home . . . The Revolution are 5-0-2 against Western Conference foes this season . . . New England has the same number of road wins (two) in Arena’s first eight games as it did in 46 games under former coach Brad Friedel.