May 5, 2018; Montreal, Quebec, CAN; New England Revolution defender Gabriel Somi (91) plays the ball and Montreal Impact forward Anthony Jackson (11) defends during the first half at Stade Saputo. Mandatory Credit: Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports
Has the New England Revolution back line improved, or not?
The Revs (4-3-2, 14 points) have a chance to answer that question Saturday night as they host Toronto FC (2-5-1, 7 points) at Gillette Stadium. After last weekend’s 4-2 loss at Montreal, a strong performance against the reigning MLS champs would do a lot to show the Revs’ defensive core is up to par.
But even at home, where New England has lost just once in its last 13 games dating back to last season, Toronto will be a challenge.
TFC will play without Jozy Altidore as he recovers from foot surgery, but still boast high-caliber players such as Sebastian Giovinco, who enters the weekend with a goal and pair of assists in his last two games.
Toronto has had an uncharacteristic start to the season due to a run to the Concacaf Champions League final. The Reds are second to last in the Eastern Conference with one win in their last five league matches. They’re on a quick turnaround, too, having lost 2-1 at Seattle on Wednesday.
Regardless, containing Giovinco and the myriad attacking options TFC coach Greg Vanney has at his disposal won’t be easy for a Revs back line that hasn’t performed as well as some results suggest.
Players to watch
Scoring goals isn’t a problem for New England: the team has accrued the fifth-most goals in MLS and, as it showed against Montreal last weekend, is capable of putting the ball in the back of the net.
Keeping other teams from scoring is a different story.
Revolution captain and central defender Claude Dielna is a critical piece.
MLS player salaries were released this week, showing Dielna as New England’s second highest-paid player and the second highest-paid defender in the league. He’s shown is worth — making MLS’ Team of the Week twice this season thanks to some timely tackling in a pair of matches last month. But those accolades meant nothing during a paltry overall defensive performance by New England last weekend.
On a short turnaround, Toronto may opt not to use Michael Bradley, who has complained about Gillette Stadium’s artificial turf in the past.
However, if Bradley does play, he’ll be instrumental in helping Toronto deal with New England’s high press. Bradley plays well under pressure and has an impressive 89.7 percent passing accuracy in six appearances this season.
Head to head
New England defeated Toronto 2-1 in the teams’ last encounter, which came on Sept. 23, 2017.
All three goals came in the final eight minutes the game. Former Revs star Lee Nguyen, who recently departed at the trade deadline for Los Angeles FC, scored first in the 82nd minute. TFC’s Nicolas Hasler tied it up two minutes later. Kei Kamara, who left for Vancouver during the offseason, notched the game-winner for New England in the 87th minute.
The Revolution lead the all-time series with Toronto 12-6-9. Toronto has won at Gillette Stadium twice.
New England Revolution: GK – Matt Turner; D – Gabriel Somi, Claude Dielna, Jalil Anibaba, Andrew Farrell; M – Luis Caicedo, Scott Caldwell, Diego Fagundez, Cristian Penilla, Wilfried Zahibo; F – Teal Bunbury
Toronto FC: GK – Alex Bono; D – Auro, Gregory Van der Wiel, Michael Bradley, Ashtone Morgan; M – Jonathan Osorio, Jay Chapman, Ager Aketxe, Marky Delgado, Victor Vasquez; F – Sebastian Giovinco
Expected kick-off: 7:30 p.m. ET
Forecast at kick-off: rainy, 52°
Match Officials: Referee: Mark Geiger; Assistant Referees: Frank Anderson, Danny Thornberry; 4th Official: David Barrie; VAR: Luis Guardia
Broadcast: TSN, ESPN+