The Columbus Crew's Saturday opponent, the New England Revolution, have a knack for getting hot at the right time and appear to be gearing up for another late season run in 2014. The Revs are winners of five of their last seven games and haven't tasted defeat since a 2-1 loss at the New York Red Bulls at the beginning of August.
With a record of 13-12-3, New England sits in third place in the Eastern Conference with 42 points on the year. They currently are two places above the Crew with only a five-point gap separating the teams.
As has been true in many of the Black and Gold's recent contents, this game will be a six point affair, as Columbus attempts to gain ground on the Revolution and New England looks to move up the Eastern Conference ladder, while distancing themselves from the Crew.
To help their push for the playoffs, the Revs acquired U.S. international Jermaine Jones, who was a key cog for the Americans' run to the knockout round of this summer's World Cup. The Designated Player was signed at the end of August, after New England won a blind draw over the Chicago Fire.
Since arriving in Boston, Jones has played in four games, three starts, and has registered three assists, which puts him in a tied for third on the team.
Crew head coach Gregg Berhalter has been impressed with how quickly Jones has acclimatized himself to New England and MLS.
"I think he's done a good job integrating, a really good job," he told TheCrew.com on Thursday. "He's been battling fitness issues but getting stronger every game so he's going to be a point of concern for us."
Despite Jones' obvious talent, Berhalter believes having him makes preparation a little bit easier for Columbus because they know what to expect from the central midfielder.
"It's easy because we know exactly what he does," the head coach said.
"Now that doesn't make the game easy, the game is still going to be very difficult but we know that a lot goes through him, we know that he's a big component to their team, and he brings a lot of intangibles. It changes their team drastically and we're prepared."
Jones picked up a knock in the Revolution's last game and was substituted at halftime. From what the Crew understands, he will be ready to play on Saturday and the team is preparing as such.
Jones certainly isn't the only Revs' player the Black and Gold have to be wary of if they expect to get a positive result Saturday night. New England have a plethora of attacking options and play a very team-oriented style of soccer that is difficult to defend.
"They change positions often. They vary in terms of where guys are on the field and they get numbers forward," Berhalter said of the opponent's attack.
"I think what they do really well is pass and move really well off their passes. If Nguyen has the ball and he's playing to Davies, he's running to get the ball again and they create advantages like that."
Lee Nguyen has been the most statistically productive player for the Revolution with 13 goals and four assists on the season. Although he is likely the team MVP, plenty of other players contribute to New England's attacking success, including Diego Fagundez, Teal Bunbury, - who is suspended for this match - Kelyn Rowe, and Daigo Kobayashi.
"It's an interesting group in terms of how they do that," Berhalter said of the attacking weapons for the Revs.
"When you look at their top five players, they're all similar profiles. Mobile, quick, good on the ball, good in tight spaces, and that's the strength of their team. It's a lot of movement offensively."
Columbus will have to find a way to stymie an offense that hasn't been shutout since the middle of July and is one of the higher scoring teams in the East.
Recently, it has been the ability to come from behind that has marked New England's success. In all of their last three games, the Revolution have conceded first, but have come away with the win on each occasion. This game will come down to who can hold a lead, as the Crew are 7-1-2 when they score first.
Berhalter said New England's resiliency won't change the game plan because the focus remains the same.
"Those are issues you deal with every game," Berhalter said of keeping a lead.
"You want to get the lead and then you want to hold the lead, simple concept. If you don't have the lead, you want to try and get it. Those are easy concepts to understand and I think that we're at home and we want to get the lead and then we want to keep the lead."
It has been a while since the Revs left the friendly confines of Gillette Stadium. The Black and Gold have not lost at home in three matches, winning all three in blowout fashion.
No matter how it comes, both teams will be looking for a massive three points in the dog fight that is the race for an Eastern Conference playoff spot.