The Revolution didn’t show a lot of conviction in a 1-1 draw with Toronto last Saturday — a game that would have pushed them into a higher position in the Eastern Conference.
Now New England must play in a tough environment against New York City FC Saturday afternoon. The field at Yankee Stadium is shorter and tighter, which will affect the Revolution’s usual fast-paced, wide play.
A win would propel the Revolution into fifth place and tie them with D.C. United with a game in hand. NYCFC, meanwhile, is in second place and has clinched a playoff berth with four consecutive victories.
NYCFC is 30-4-13 at home since the start of the 2017 season. However, one of the few teams that hasn’t struggled there is New England, which is 2-2-2 in the not-so-friendly confines, including a 1-0 win last September.
With both teams undergoing a bit of an overhaul from last season, what can New England do Saturday to ensure maximum points? Here are the keys to the game:
Big piece missing
NYCFC’s Brazilian playmaker Heber is expected to miss 3-4 weeks with a right quad injury suffered last weekend in Vancouver. His absence takes a dynamic element away from the NYCFC attack.
With Heber in the lineup, NYCFC is 12-2-3, compared with 2-3-5 when he’s out. Clearly, his presence is influential in the attack, and NYCFC is now forced to find a different way of generating offense. There is considerable depth up front, with Maxi Moralez and Valentin Castellanos as primary options.
“It’ll be fun to play against a team of that caliber,” said Revolution defender Andrew Farrell. “They’ve got a lot of good players, guys that can really punish us if we’re not on our game.”
Shorter and simpler
The Revolution weren’t fazed by the change in dimensions last season and were able to maintain an up-tempo pace to their game. But with the tighter areas on the flanks, wingers such as Cristian Penilla and Diego Fagundez, and even midfield playmaker Carles Gil, will need to be better on the ball in smaller spaces.
A lot of this can come from quick, short passes to keep defenders moving. Those, in turn, will open spaces that the Revolution can use to thread passes or through balls down the middle. It’s a simpler tactic than their usual overlapping and crossing but one that can still bear fruit with the speed New England possesses.
“The sightlines are very bizarre there,” said Revolution coach Bruce Arena. “It’s difficult for players to have a good feel for where they’re positioned on the field at times. It takes visiting teams a little time to get adjusted there.”
This is urgent
With the regular season entering its final month, now is the time for the Revolution to turn on the afterburners in the playoff hunt. The main mental adjustment needed is a sense of urgency.
The Revolution appeared to be milling about at times against Toronto and even in the previous game against Chicago. A goalkeeping error last week and a turnover the week before were the reasons New England got positive results.
The Revolution cannot keep relying on opponents’ mistakes, leaving a need to increase their own urgency in the attack.
“We’re not in a comfortable sixth place by any means,” said goalkeeper Matt Turner. “We have a really big challenge this weekend at New York. We know they’re going to be up for it and we need 3 points.”
Revolution vs. NYCFC
■ When, where: Saturday, 3:30 p.m., at Yankee Stadium, New York.
■ TV, radio: Univision, WBZ-FM (98.5).
■ Coaches: Revolution — Bruce Arena; NYCFC — Dome Torrent.
■ Formations: Revolution — 4-2-3-1; NYCFC — 4-4-2.
■ Goalkeepers: Revolution — Matt Turner; NYCFC — Brad Stuver/Luis Barraza.
■ Referee: Silviu Petrescu.
■ Out: Revolution — D Edgar Castillo (ribs); F Teal Bunbury (hamstring); NYCFC — GK Sean Johnson (international duty), D Joe Scally (hip), D James Sands (shoulder), D Ronald Matarrita (red card), M Ebenezer Ofori (knee), M Ismael Tajouri-Shradi (ankle), F Heber (quad).
■ Miscellany: Revolution F Gustavo Bou has scored a goal in four straight games . . . New England leads the all-time series, 5-3-3, and is 2-0-1 in the last three . . . NYCFC has conceded just 34 goals this season, third fewest in MLS.
Dan Shulman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter @DanielRShulman.