From an outside perspective, it seems likely that the New England Revolution will return home with three points from their visit to the Philadelphia Union this Saturday. After all, the Revs sit in fifth place in the Eastern Conference and Philly is in a lowly ninth place. However, it's vital to avoid such premature conclusions.
Although streaky and inconsistent, the Union have quietly scored 33 goals across their 27 league games and shown signs of rich offensive form in recent weeks. They've scored five goals across their last three games, in which they've amassed seven of a possible nine points, and seem to be in sync in the offensive third.
Leading the charge for the Union is undoubtedly Cristian Maidana. The Argentinian has quietly put together a banner year by scoring once and assisting a league-best 14 goals. Mindful of that, Andrew Farrell, Jose Goncalves, Jermaine Jones, Scott Caldwell, and whoever else may encounter the 28-year-old will have their hands full.
"I've watched a lot of their games and he's really, really good," Farrell said before training on Wednesday. "It's going to be up to our defensive mids - whether it's Scotty, Jermaine, Daigo [Kobayashi], or [Andy] Dorman - to limit that. I think also if we keep a lot of the ball we can limit what he does for their attack."
As significant of a threat as Maidana poses, the Revs also are aware of the Union's other main man: C.J. Sapong. The former Sporting Kansas City striker had a rocky start to his 2015 season, but has come on strong as of late.
Through typical hold-up striker play, Sapong leads the Union with seven goals and also has four assists. In particular, Farrell is looking forward to the various challenges Sapong will present to the Revs' defense.
"It's going to be good," Farrell said. "I think C.J. is not necessarily underrated because he gets hype, but he's a really good player. He's good in the air, fights for everything, big, and has some good moves on the ball. It's going to be a good test for me and Jose if we go against him."
Come Saturday, the Revs will keep a watchful eye on Maidana and Sapong's whereabouts, knowing that they can punish them at any moment. Neither are big-name players in the broader context of Major League Soccer, but they still deserve the attention the Revs plan on giving them.
So as Saturday's game nears, the Revs are highly aware that their defense will be called upon in a multitude of ways. They plan on answering every call and, in turn, earning another crucial three points as the playoffs near.
"They’re a team that has players who can beat you at any moment in a game, so we have to be very mindful of that," Jay Heaps said before Wednesday's training session. "We have to prepare ourselves to try and limit what they do well, which you can’t always do, so it’s going to be a lot of team defending and 11 guys out there. Not just the back four or defensive midfielders, it has be the whole group."