FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – The importance of one facet of the game has surpassed all others for the New England Revolution this season.
Whether the Revs have passed the ball proficiently or spread it around to the other team with reckless abandon, possession has dominated the discussion.
In years past, the Revs have used their ability to keep the ball to their advantage as they smoothly passed their way into becoming one of the league's elite teams. The possession-based orientation has withered away over the past couple of seasons, heaping more focus on the Revolution's inability to string together the required network of passes to remain effective on the ball.
“In the end, this whole season has been about taking care of the ball,” Revolution goalkeeper Matt Reis told MLSsoccer.com on Friday. “When we've taken care of the ball and we've passed it, we've done well. The problem is when we have the lack of judgment or the lack of quality, it's really hurt us.”
The ability to obtain and retain possession will take on additional importance on Saturday night as New England host Real Salt Lake at Gillette Stadium.
The reigning MLS Cup champions and current Supporters' Shield chasers deploy a silky possession-oriented game heavily focused on the four players comprising their diamond quartet in midfield. [inline_node:315300]
“At times, they're going to give us some trouble,” Revolution coach Steve Nicol said. “They're a good passing team, so there will be times where we'll need to defend properly and that's what it's all about.”
Defending properly will require picking up the proper spots defensively and retaining the ball more effectively in attack. Barring a sudden uptick in possession proficiency, the Revs will have to remain alert at all times to disrupt the rhythm of integral figures like Kyle Beckerman and Javier Morales (if selected after a substitute appearance in a 1-1 draw against Toronto in CONCACAF Champions League play on Tuesday) in the center of the park.
“We have to make sure we're tuned in,” Revolution defender Darrius Barnes said. “When we have the ball, we need to move side-to-side with it and be dangerous with it. When we lose it, we have to make sure that we're getting back quickly enough to eliminate their counterattacks and eliminate their passes.
“We don't want them to get into the flow of things. When they get into the flow of things, they'll lull you to sleep and find that weakness. That's where they are dangerous.”
A pair of enforced changes at the back will make things more difficult for the Revs. Kevin Alston will miss the match after suffering a left hamstring strain in last Saturday's 2-2 draw with Columbus. Cory Gibbs will also watch from the sidelines after having a procedure done to ward off a possible infection in his hip.
[inline_node:317595]Chris Tierney will likely deputize on the right after recovering from a left knee complaint, while Emmanuel Osei looks set to come into central defense to replace Gibbs.
In order to establish the solid defensive base required to repel the Claret-and-Cobalt, the Revolution must display the commitment required to discard their current status in the table and obtain a measure of revenge for the 5-0 thumping suffered at Rio Tinto Stadium on July 2.
“It just comes down to communication and the willingness to play,” Barnes said. “We have to go out there with the mindset that we're ready to play.
“Of course it is different when you have a different lineup out there and things change,” he added, “but if people come out ready to play and everybody is into the game and tuned in, we can talk things through and communicate.”