After six long months, the 2019 MLS regular season comes to an end on Sunday. For the Revolution, their season finale comes with a trip to face reigning champion Atlanta United.
The last time the teams met in early April, New England was nearing a low point. Atlanta took down the Revolution, 2-0, at Gillette Stadium, marking the third such result for the Revolution at home to that point.
Less than a month after that match, the Revolution underwent a managerial change that has bolstered confidence in the players. That confidence was fully exuded last week in a home victory over Eastern Conference front-runner New York City, 2-0, to clinch a playoff spot.
The fact that the Revolution flirted with a postseason berth is incredible enough. And in their final game of the regular season, they’ll face a dress rehearsal in what could be a first-round preview at Atlanta.
Here’s how New England can make the most of its trip to Atlanta:
Josef, or no Josef
Atlanta has been led by its attacking talisman, league goal-scoring leader Josef Martinez. With a goal in 15 straight matches, Martinez has been close to unstoppable this season.
But over the past month, he’s been sidelined with an injury. He has started a slow progression back to training, though it is uncertain if he will be ready for a full 90-minute effort in the regular-season finale.
The smart move would be to use him as a substitute and get some action under his legs if he’s able. The Revolution will remain focused on what they can control with numerous other Atlanta weapons on the field.
“They’re a high-power, high-intensity, attacking team,” said Revolution defender Jalil Anibaba. “Aggressive with their attack and as far as our defensive standpoint is concerned we’ll have to be very sharp.”
Block out the noise
Atlanta’s home crowd has been the best in MLS since the team joined the league in 2017. The Revolution have not won at Atlanta and have been outscored, 9-1, in two prior visits.
While the past hasn’t been pretty for the Revolution, this season has turned a new leaf. The Revolution were almost guaranteed a disappointing result on the road before Bruce Arena took over as coach. They have lost only once on the road since, while earning at least a point in every other game.
New England will have to be road warriors again and seem fully equipped defensively to do so.
“Go there and try to win the game, nothing changes,” said Arena. “It’s a good test because we get a game on the road against a quality team and perhaps we see them again.”
Set pieces must improve
The Revolution have gotten better at winning dangerous attacking set pieces with quick passing and strong off-ball movement. But executing those set pieces has been somewhat of a nightmare.
Take their recent road draw against Portland. New England had 16 corners and failed to generate many quality chances on those. As for free kicks, the runs from players in the box have not been powerful enough to beat defenders.
While frustrating, the Revolution may decide to employ some training-ground moves into their set-piece playbook for this weekend to test out tactics ahead of the playoffs.
Revolution at Atlanta United
When, where: Sunday, 4 p.m., at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, Atlanta.
TV, radio: NBCSB, WBZ-FM (98.5 HD2).
Formations: Revolution — 4-4-2; Atlanta — 3-4-3.
Goalkeepers: Revolution — Matt Turner; Atlanta — Brad Guzan.
Coaches: Revolution — Bruce Arena; Atlanta — Frank de Boer.
Referee: Ismail Elfath.
Out: Revolution — D Edgar Castillo (rib); Atlanta — D Brek Shea (knee).
Miscellany: New England has never beaten Atlanta in five meetings, going 0-3-2 and being outscored, 12-2 . . . Josef Martinez has scored in a league-record 15 straight games and is six games shy of equaling Lionel Messi’s world record of 21 . . . Since Bruce Arena took over as coach, the Revolution are 3-1-6 on the road. They are 3-5-8 on the road overall, tied for the fewest road losses in the Eastern Conference with New York City . . . The Revolution reached an verbal agreement on a two-year contract with former Manchester United defender Alexander Büttner, according to Dutch news outlet de Gelderlander. The left back, who most recently played for Vitesse Arnhem in the Dutch Eredivisie is expected to join the team in 2020 on a free transfer.