FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The New England Revolution appear to be making modifications to the team’s application of the high press, its signature method for creating scoring opportunities and winning possession.
Though the press accounted for most of the Revolution’s goals last year, it was used so aggressively that it made the team one-dimensional in the attacking third and left the back line vulnerable on counterattacks.
As such, New England (0-1-1, 1 point) focused more on build-up play during preseason and the effort is showing small signs of paying off.
In last Saturday’s 2-0 loss against Columbus Crew SC, the Revolution controlled 45 percent of possession and attempted roughly 100 more passes than their 90-minute average from 2018, when they were also one of the league’s weakest possession teams.
A two-game sample size is small, but Revs players said this week they’re trying to add some nuance to the way they win back, use and retain the ball.
“It’s a little bit different,” said Revolution striker Teal Bunbury. “We have some new pieces in, and kind of starting a different philosophy in terms of when we start our press – maybe not as high at times, but we’re fully capable of changing that and putting teams under pressure if we need to.”
The Revolution seem to think they’re on the right track. After Saturday’s loss to Columbus, players said they felt their side was in relative command of the match and that both of the visitors’ goals came against the run of play.
On one hand, the Revs’ back line wasn’t under heavy siege against the Crew or in the 1-1 tie against FC Dallas to open the season. But, pressing in moderation and taking a more balanced approach to possession are not substitutes for defending well.
The Revolution, anchored by the promising play of central defender Antonio Delamea, have been mostly organized at the back. They also haven’t looked particularly vulnerable on defense other than on the three plays that led to the goals they’ve conceded, all of which could have likely been avoided.
In the season opener, a turnover in midfield led to Dallas’ Michael Barrios scoring on a breakaway. Meanwhile, both Crew goals last weekend started with ample space for the visitors to exploit in the attacking third of the field.
“I think we’ve done a good job of staying together in good shape and not allowing quality chances – not many of them, at least,” said Revolution midfielder Scott Caldwell. “That’s something to build on, but we definitely have to keep a clean sheet.”
New England could also give its defense insurance by being more prolific in the attack. So far the team’s only goal has come from Carles Gil, who scored the equalizer against Dallas.
The Crew’s outfield players monitored Gil closely while goalkeeper Zack Steffen denied a Diego Fagundez penalty kick last Saturday, which marked the first time since last May the club suffered a shutout loss at home (also against Columbus).
New England will look to improve on both sides of the ball Sunday, when it visits Toronto FC.
“I think we’ve done well with it on the defensive side of things, like we’ve said, but we’re not creating enough, and we’re not turning our defensive challenges and our defensive steps into anything on the attacking end,” Caldwell added. “I think that’s something we have to improve on and something that we’ll continue to work out.”