FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – If an opponent’s strength lies in capitalizing on mistakes, then it stands to reason that the best course of action is to limit those mistakes. It’s an approach the New England Revolution is preaching ahead of this weekend’s clash with the opportunistic Columbus Crew.
The Crew has found a winning formula in recent weeks with a blend of defensive determination and timely goals, keeping a compact shape and stifling the opponent’s attack while waiting for a misstep and an opening to strike. The system has worked wonders to the tune of a five-game unbeaten streak (3-0-2) despite the fact that the Crew was outshot in four of those matches. Twice during that span – in a 2-0 win over Seattle Sounders FC and a 1-1 draw with the San Jose Earthquakes, both on the road – Columbus has scored with its only shots on target.
“They seem like a team that really waits for the opponent to make a mistake,” said Revs midfielder Benny Feilhaber. “They’ve got a decent team, but they don’t have any really flashy players. I think they lull some teams to sleep a little bit and then they pounce.
“We’ve got to be on top of our game for 90 minutes, especially from the get-go,” he added. “[We need] to get on top of them early and put in our chances, because that’s what they’ve been able to do in their games.”
The Revolution has the advantage of having prepared for – and passed – a similar test just two weeks ago when the Chicago Fire visited Gillette Stadium. Persistence paid off against the resolute Fire as Feilhaber and Kelyn Rowe combined late to push the Revs to a 2-0 win, and New England head coach Jay Heaps is hoping for a repeat performance against the Crew.
“I felt like Chicago had done very similar to what Columbus is doing where you sit in, you wait for your time, you wait for a mistake and you take advantage,” said Heaps. “You have to make sure that you don’t give anything away. You’ve got to make sure that your game is set up that guys are in a position where if there’s a lost ball or a giveaway, there’s support and cover.”
Against the Fire, the Revs were frustrated for the opening hour-plus before Rowe finally made the breakthrough in the 69th minute, paving the way for Feilhaber’s insurance goal just four minutes later. Facing a similar opponent on Saturday, both Heaps and Feilhaber have preached patience against the Crew.
“We have to make sure that when we go into these games, we are creative and we don’t run out of ideas,” said Heaps. “We have to keep continuing with our ideas. If you run out of ideas, there’s always another one somewhere and you’ve got to make sure that the movement creates ideas, as well.”
“It’s possible that we won’t create too many chances in the game, but we have to stick with it,” echoed Feilhaber. “Keep grinding it out. Maybe it’ll come early, it might not. If it doesn’t, we have to keep patient and believe that the way we play soccer is going to eventually pay dividends.”