After an electrifying performance in the Hell is Real Derby victory against FC Cincinnati, the Columbus Crew welcomes the New England Revolution to Lower.com Field on Saturday night for an important match Eastern Conference match.
The Crew is unbeaten in eight games and has debuted a superstar in the making in Cucho Hernandez. The striker has scored four goals in his first three matches and looks poised to make a second straight start for the Black & Gold. Hernandez’s arrival has jumpstarted the Columbus attack since he arrived and led the Crew to seven points in the team’s last three matches.
On the other side, New England is winless in the four games and is desperate to get back to winning ways this Saturday. Bruce Arena will hope to do that against Caleb Porter, adding another chapter to the head coaches’ long rivalry.
Here’s a look at what to expect from the Revolution and how the Black & Gold can take three points from this match.
New England Revolution at a glance:
Record: 6-7-7, 25 points
League Form: L-L,-D-D,-W
Leading Scorer: Gustavo Bou (7)
Assist Leader: Carles Gil (6)
Player to Watch: Carles Gil
The reigning MLS Mots Valuable Player is an easy choice for players to watch. In 2021, Gil was the league’s most impactful player, as he recorded four goals and a league-best 13 assists.
So far in 2021, Gil has picked up right where he left off, already matching his goal tally from last year and recording six assists. While his assist production has slowed a little bit as a result of losing teammates like Tajon Buchannon (Club Brugge) and Adam Buksa (RC Lens), Gil is still the focal point of the New England attack and will command a lot of attention from the Crew defense.
Gil excels at drifting into space in front of the backline and pulling defenders out of position before slotting the final pass to his teammates. In addition, the playmaker is known for drifting into wide areas (similar to Columbus’ Lucas Zelarayan) and losing his markers. Gil’s specialty is early crosses played in from wide areas to the back post for his teammates to attack.
The Crew midfield and back line will have to do an excellent job of tracking Gil on Saturday.
How the New England Revolution play:
After setting the MLS record for points in a season (73) in 2021, the Revs are experiencing a bit of a hangover following their record-setting campaign. Of course, the loss of the previously mentioned Buchannon and Buksa, as well as star goalkeeper Matt Turner, don’t help matters.
With that being said, Arena hasn’t changed much tactically from last to this. New England mainly operates out of a 4-2-3-1 formation that features overlapping fullbacks in Dejuan Jones and Brandon Bye when in possession. The Revolution choose to do this in order to utilize the speed and attacking ability of those players as well as push their wingers (namely Sebastian Llegett) into central areas of the field in order to combine with Gil and forward Gustavo Bou. This attacking shape allows the Revs to maintain advantages in the central part of the field and created isolated opportunities for Jones and Bye to run at the backline.
Defensively, New England tends to press high whenever possible before falling back into a more compact defensive shape if their pressure is broken. Oftentimes, the Revolution looks to initiate this pressure when the ball is played to the opponent's outside back in possession. Many of these basic principles are similar to the Black & Gold, leading to an interesting tactical chess match on Saturday.
How the Crew can win:
Columbus looks to extend the team’s unbeaten run to nine matches Saturday night. Porter and multiple players spoke about the importance of winning home matches over the second half of the 2022 campaign. Needless to say, the Crew hopes to find a way to take all three points from this match. Here is how the Black & Gold can do that.
The most notable improvement from Columbus over the last three matches has been the team’s ability to finish chances in front of goal. This is in large part thanks to Hernandez’s contributions in front of the goal. Regardless, the Crew has converted the majority of its chances in recent matches and the team will need to do so again on Saturday in order to win.
As Porter pointed out in his pre-match press conference, despite all of the moving pieces on their roster, the Revs have kept their entire backline intact from their Supporters’ Shield winning side. Chances will be rare for the Black & Gold on Saturday and they will need to continue to be clinical with their finishing.
In addition to continuing the team’s fine form in front of the goal, Columbus also needs to control the flow and tempo of the match. As mentioned, one of New England’s biggest threats is its speed and pace. Oftentimes, the Revs look to utilize their speed on the road through counter attacking. The Crew will likely be able to control the majority of possession in this match. However, the Black & Gold need to limit the chances New England has to break out in attacking transition and utilize the team’s speed.
There are two main ways Columbus can do this. Firstly, finishing as many attacks as possible with shots on goal. This eliminates the Revolution’s ability to break out off turnovers. Secondly, when the Crew does turn the ball over, counter pressing will be vital to allow the Black & Gold to win the ball back.
If Columbus is able to convert chances and control the tempo of the match, the Crew will like the team’s chances at taking all three points from this match.