The book on FC Dallas isn't particularly complicated. Whether FCD are playing at Pizza Hut Park or venturing away from home, they want to flood numbers forward in search of goals.
New England coach Steve Nicol said his Revolution side would have to improve in possession against FCD's five-man midfield in order to mitigate the visitors' attacking approach.
“They absolutely get people forward,” Nicol told MLSsoccer on Thursday. “Clearly the key is not to cough the ball up. If we don't cough the ball up, then hopefully they'll have some guys out-of-position and we can take advantage of it. It's always the same thing: keeping from coughing the ball up. If we do [cough it up], you know they're going to send people forward to try and punish you.”
As Nicol and his players have discussed time and again this season, the Revs haven't held the ball particularly well with Shalrie Joseph out of the lineup. With Joseph now away from the team indefinitely as he tends to personal matters, the onus falls on New England central midfielders Joseph Niouky and Pat Phelan to pick up the slack.
In order to improve upon last week's effort against Colorado's five-man midfield in a 2-1 loss at Gillette Stadium, Phelan said the Revs would need to focus on making smart, possession-oriented passes when they obtain the ball and pick up intelligent defensive spots when FCD inevitably surge into the attacking third.
“Dez [Joseph Niouky] and myself didn't have good starting positions,” Phelan said. “It's so important for Marko [Perovic] on left and Sainey [Nyassi] on the right or whoever else is in there to stay pinched in and help out with that. [Colorado midfielder Mehdi] Ballouchy last week was the floating man behind us last week. That's going to be the big key. We need to keep everything in front of us and keep them moving side to side, then we're alright.”
Dallas' proclivity to send numbers forward places more pressure on New England defensively, but Revolution captain Cory Gibbs sees an opportunity on the counterattack.
“It isolates them and they're susceptible to our counters with Sainey and his pace and the players up top and Marko and whoever else,” Gibbs said. “With a plus, there's always a minus. We know we have to be patient and our times will come.”
However, Nicol sees things differently. He doesn’t want the Revolution to start the match ambitiously and force the visitors to operate inside their own half frequently.
“We hope not to be counterattacking,” Nicol said. “We hope to be up the other end most of the time and putting them under pressure. But if that's what we have to do sometimes, then obviously, we'll do that then. We'd prefer to minimize all of that and keep them under pressure all of the time.”
New England have minimized their injury concerns over the past couple of weeks, but a new concern cropped up on Friday as starting goalkeeper Preston Burpo landed on the injury list. Burpo missed Thursday's training session due to illness, according to Nicol, and appeared on the injury report with a concussion the next day. Burpo is listed as probable for the match, and Nicol said he'd be ready to go.
But the Revolution placed Matt Reis (left shoulder and knee surgeries) on the Disabled List on Friday to open up a roster spot for former Providence College goalkeeper Tim Murray. Reis remains on schedule to return in June, but the upcoming fixture congestion—New England play seven games between May 1 and June 5—allowed the Revs to add Murray as cover for Burpo and backup Bobby Shuttleworth.