New formation leads to newfound defensive resolve for rejuvenated Revolution

Gershon Koffie vs. Colorado Rapids

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Much has been made of the New England Revolution’s recent switch to a 4-4-2 diamond formation. The discussion has focused primarily on the system’s use of two strikers, a departure from the 4-2-3-1/4-3-3 hybrid setup the Revs had used for the majority of the past four years.

The change has reinvigorated the Revolution’s attack, which snapped an extended scoreless drought in last weekend’s 2-0 win over the Colorado Rapids. New England’s use of two forwards has taken pressure off the target striker, while it has freed up the midfield to find different spaces between the lines.

But perhaps the most dramatic improvement has been on the defensive side of the ball, as the Revs have kept two clean sheets and conceded just one goal in three games since switching to the 4-4-2; that after allowing 13 goals during the previous four-game span.

The reason for New England’s newfound defensive resolve, according to head coach Jay Heaps, has a lot to do with starting points. With the diamond midfield all four midfielders occupy more central positions, allowing them to protect the backline and rarely put themselves in vulnerable spots.

“Defensively, it puts four guys that are really working hard to protect the center backs and our back four,” Heaps said. “But it’s a collective. It’s not just one thing. It’s forwards being the first line of defense and working really hard to [make the opponent] predictable, and then our midfield covering a lot of ground.”

Heaps said New England’s defensive positioning in the 4-4-2 is designed to not only force and capitalize on turnovers, but also shield the backline when they turn the ball over themselves. And while it’s a collective effort, perhaps no one is tasked with more responsibility in that regard than Gershon Koffie.

Koffie sits at the base of diamond, serving as the fulcrum in possession. But most importantly Koffie is a disruptor, cutting out passing lanes and cleaning up messes before they turn into scoring chances, all while working in tandem with the center backs.

“I think the guys who are playing in midfield … they’re doing a really good job helping the back four, sitting in front of us,” said Andrew Farrell, who has played both right back and center back in the new setup. “Especially Gersh and the two center backs, who are creating a solid triangle.”

Since the switch to the 4-4-2 the Revs have limited their opponents to just seven shots on target (an average of 2.33 per game), but they’ve also relied upon the occasional big save from goalkeeper Brad Knighton, who has taken hold of his opportunity since taking over the starting job on August 20.

They’ll likely need Knighton to be big again on Saturday night when they’ll host New York City FC, statistically Major League Soccer’s strongest road team.

“He’s been great,” Farrell said of Knighton. “His chance came and he took it … Now I think it’s a good moment for all of us to be clicking and hopefully get another good result at home.”