FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – The New England Revolution's 16-day break from matches during the international window provided the squad with valuable recovery time and quality training sessions ahead of their final five games of the regular season.
New England’s lofty list of accomplishments through 29 matches (20-4-5) is no small feat. With the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference secured, a first-round playoff bye and guaranteed homefield advantage through at least the conference final, their success in the regular season has been remarkable.
Nevertheless, even with all the team has accomplished to date, their focus in Saturday night's game against Chicago Fire FC is simply improving.
“Now that the East is locked up, it’s just can we keep getting better?” said Ema Boateng. “If you look at the record of this league, having the first seed doesn’t mean anything.
“[Teams] could lose. Last year, the first seed in the East didn’t make the final, so we need to keep getting better. We can’t feel like the work that we’ve done is enough. We’ve just got to keep working and we know those five games are very important, getting home-field for the rest of the playoffs as they go.”
With more than two weeks between matches, this provided the Revs an opportunity to take some time off, and upon returning hold more intense training sessions.
“We gave them I think a total of six days off, might have been even seven,” said head coach Bruce Arena. “So, they've had time away to get rested both mentally and physically. But when they came back to work, they worked hard. There was a good balance there between rest and some hard work.”
“We were able to train the last two weeks,” said assistant coach Richie Williams. “We had an intrasquad game on Saturday, which was nice to play against each other, give everybody a good run. Guys got quality minutes that needed minutes that are potentially coming back from injury or haven’t played a lot. I thought the training over the last two weeks was great.”
Even as the Revs sit atop the league with 65 points, they critically look at areas they want to work on to ensure they take as many points as possible of the remaining 15 on the table.
New England has scored an impressive nine goals in their last three games, however, the Revs have also totaled 43 shots in that same span. As the squad nears the postseason, they aim to place more emphasis on putting those chances away.
“Guys are running off each other, working hard," said Boateng. "A lot of the stuff that we focused on earlier on in the preseason – making runs in the box and creating goals – we’ve been working on a lot more recently, too.
“We’re trying to bring that back, because we know we can create goals from Gustavo [Bou] shooting from 40 yards out, or off set pieces and all that stuff, but the nitty gritty, the runs that we have to make in the box, we’re focusing a lot more on that recently, and I think that’s why you see all those goals in the games.”
“We worked a lot on our attacking, little bit of patterns and attacking movements to create chances and to get into dangerous goal-scoring areas, and then finishing those chances,” said Tommy McNamara. “It hasn’t been perfect, of course. It’s never perfect. But we’ve done very well in that area for sure this year.”
While New England looks to produce more goals, they also want to tighten up their performances on the other side of the field. After conceding four goals in their last three games, the team strategically focused on tuning up their defensive performances during the break and hope to secure additional shutouts leading into the postseason.
“We worked a lot on [clean sheets and limiting chances],” said McNamara.
“We worked with our back four, our goalkeeper, we worked with our back four midfield, and we worked with the full 11 on the defensive side of things. We focused on those areas in the past few weeks and hopefully we’ll be able to show that in these upcoming five games.”
The Revs will put their extended training period to the test against Chicago Fire FC at Gillette Stadium on Saturday at 7 p.m. ET, with television coverage on TV38, myRITV and CoziTV.