Lower.com Field is set to host its first ever match as the Columbus Crew take on the New England Revolution this Saturday afternoon. On top of the opening of the new stadium, this game is a huge occasion for each team.
New England currently find itself on the top of the Eastern Conference and is gaining confidence every week. Meanwhile the Black & Gold are looking to gain some ground on the Revs and the rest of the Eastern leaders in their new home.
Here are some things to look for on Saturday.
New England Revolution at a Glance:
Record: 7-2-2, 23 points
League Form: L-W-W-W-W
Leading Scorer: Gustavo Bou (5)
Assist Leader: Carles Gil (7)
Player to Watch: Carles Gil
To say that Carles Gil is playing well right now would be the understatement of the year. The 28-year-old Spaniard has been nothing short of magnificent for the Revs so far this year.
Gil leads the way for New England and the MLS in assists with seven. Featuring in the central midfield, Gil has become a staple of the Revolution attack after joining the team in 2019. Known for his passing abilities and vision in the final third, it’s no secret why he has had such an impact so far this year.
The No. 10 has flourished with talented finishers around him, including Gustavo Bou, Adam Buksa and Tajon Buchannon. Gil has benefited off the attention his teammates attract from opposition defenders, which allows him space to be his creative self.
If the Crew is going to take three points on Saturday, the team will need to keep a tight grasp on Gil.
How the New England Revolution plays:
The Revolution could be contenders for the team that has evolved most from 2020 to 2021. At the end of the 2020 regular season and in the team’s playoff run, New England was reliant on the team’s ability to counter attack through pace on the flanks and defensive stability. The team’s 2021 evolution has come in its ability in possession.
While still able to effectively counter attack, New England is much improved in possession thus far in their 2021 campaign and it is a big reason why the team finds itself atop the Eastern Conference. The Revs’ ability to control possession has enabled the team to dictate the flow of games and control the tempo and speed of play.
In addition to the benefits that this provides them in controlling the match, it also means New England can beat an opponent in two ways, which is obviously much harder to counteract than one. This added ability in possession has made the Revolution a dangerous team to face so far in 2021.
The one glaring weakness for New England is the team’s defending. Perhaps as a side effect of the ability in possession, the Revs’ defensive stability has waivered so far in 2021. New England has only recorded two clean sheets and give up 1.2 goals per game. Obviously, this has not effected the team too much so far in 2021 but it is something to be aware of heading into this match.
This match is likely to play out like the Revolution’s previous meeting with the Black & Gold in mid May. a 1-0 win for the home side at Gillette Stadium. In the first meeting, the two teams split possession but New England was the far more dangerous side. Having already had success beating the Crew at their own possession based game, I expect Bruce Arena and company to try and do the same on Saturday in the rematch.
How the Crew can win:
This is a huge fixture in the Crew’s 2021 campaign. Aside from the obvious importance of opening up Lower.com Field in the right way, a win in this matchup could propel the Columbus forward in 2021. The last few games have been frustrating for Black & Gold supporters and players alike but a win in this matchup would provide a spark heading into the second half of the season.
Here are a few things the Crew can do to win Saturday afternoon.
Firstly, and this seems a bit too obvious, but Columbus needs to be much more dangerous in the final third. The Crew is currently dead last in MLS in shots on goal per match and second to last in big chances created per match. This certainly isn’t a plea for the Crew to begin shooting from wherever and rushing attempts on goal, hoping for success. Rather, the Crew should look to be more creative in the final third.
Caleb Porter and the Crew have scored a plethora of goals utilizing balls cut back from the end line and early balls in behind the back line and because of that, opponents are starting to catch on. When these options are taken away by their opponents, the Black & Gold often look like they are out of ideas in the final third. Since Columbus has such an emphasis on creating opportunities through wide areas and the opponents are now focused on covering those spaces, it could open up some room in the central midfield for the likes of Lucas Zelarayan and Darlington Nagbe to explore. If the Crew is able to find different ways and areas to attack, it could go a long way in fixing their goal scoring problems.
In addition to being more dangerous in the attacking third, the Black & Gold are going to have to defend well on Saturday in order to take home three points. As mentioned, New England is much improved in possession and more than capable of making the Columbus defend for large periods of time.
In addition to this, the Revs have been very dangerous with 12 of the team’s 18 goals coming from open play. There will be moments on Saturday where the Crew is asked to defend and if the team is able to do so, will reap the benefits of their labor.
Lastly, the Black & Gold need to seize the moment this Saturday. As cliché as it sounds, there is a distinct buzz around the club and city already and it will be even louder and more profound on Saturday. There is no doubt that there will be an electric atmosphere in the stadium on Saturday and Columbus should look to use that to their advantage.
So often commentators and managers talk about taking the crowd out of the game when facing a packed stadium on the road. However in this case, the Crew needs to look to bring the crowd into the game on Saturday. A fast-paced, high-energy, emphatic start to this contest would go a long way towards doing that.