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Scouting Report: Studying the New England Revolution's gameplan

First visit to Gillette Stadium in 3 years for FCD.

Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

New England Revolution's formation (4-2-3-1):

(All other graphics all linked with words and/or sentences below.)

New England's Offensive Strategy

-New England Revolution's primary formation is 4-2-3-1, although they often alternate into 4-3-3 with the attacking midfielder dropping deeper to offer a closer option for the midfield pivots to play a short passing game with and the wingers moving up and gaining more freedom to make runs either down the byline or in the box as wing-forwards.

-New England's style of play is primarily based on keeping possession of the ball and using it to attack vertically down the flanks, especially on the right hand side, although because of the technical quality they have in the center of midfield, they are comfortable with playing short passing but in a way in which they could bring it to the final third and create chances in a direct manner, rather than using it as a patient, methodical ploy like most possession-minded teams do.

-Arguably the most important player for their style is USMNT international Lee Nguyen, who is capable of playing short passing combinations with his teammates but also has the vision, dribbling, and creative abilities that make him more of a offensive minded player who is capable of unlocking defenses and whose main goal is to get the ball into the back of the net.

-Nguyen is comfortable in a possession-focused and a direct offensive approach setting and without him, it'd be harder for New England to variate their gameplan between the two styles in the way that they like to do. His keenness to get goals for his team is evidenced by his 2.4 shots on goal and 3.3 key passes averages this year, while his 78% passing accuracy percentage showcase that he's strong on the ball for an advanced player as well.

-In their new acquisition Kei Kamara, the Revs have a forward who is a more proven goal scorer and arguably the best at what he does in all of MLS, which adds to their offensive weaponry and makes them even more of a threat. He is a naturally strong finisher when given the chance in front of goal, a menace with his movement around the penalty area, and an aerial prowess, as you'd expect of any target man worthy of that tag.

-Whichever pairing of wingers New England like to go with between one of Kelyn Rowe and Juan Agudelo with Diego Fagundez on the opposite side, there are several consistencies between them. Both Rowe and Agudelo are tuned into the team's passing style and are proficient in that area, they like to cut inside from their wide positions, and they both like to take shots on from several different angles.

-Fagundez on the left side similarly likes to cut inside from the wing and with the wide players on both sides preferring to do that, it adds variety and different dimensions to New England's game. Fagundez, as a right footed player, is adept at cutting in, taking shots, and playing in their short passing style while Rowe, who is also comfortable on the ball, likes to take players on more often and makes early runs into pockets of space either down the byline or in the penalty area when possible. He is also able to combine well with players and does so often in the final third while Agudelo is more unpredictable and tries to pull off tricks which make him harder to defend, especially when he has spaces to attack in front of him.

-Gershon Koffie and Scott Caldwell make up their central midfield pairing. While neither of the two are offensive minded players first and foremost, they are capable of contributing to the attack with their occasional runs into the final third on at least a couple of occasions on each game. Both are proficient passers of the ball, with 84.3% and 86.9% pass success averages respectively this year. Caldwell is a player who likes to get stuck in and has the ability to get shots in on target from long distances at times while Koffie is a bit more adventurous and likes to take players on, while possessing good shooting abilities from outside the box himself. Seeing as they're both dangerous in that area, it would be important to deprive them of the space and opportunities to attempt those shots seeing as those are strengths of theirs.

-Former FCD fullback Je-Vaughn Watson is tall, good in the air, strong at intercepting balls, and loves to take players on in 1v1 situations out wide. While he isn't your typical fullback that likes to cross the ball into the box as much as possible, his sheer athleticism and pace is enough to trouble any team on the overlap. He does play a lot of long balls out the back into the final third for his teammates to latch onto, which he'll likely do again with a target man like Kamara. Similarly goes for Chris Tierney who is, however, a frequent crosser of the ball and whose attacking productivity is likely to be improved with someone as good in the air as Kamara to aim for in the box with his crosses.

-The centerback pairing of Andrew Farrell and Jose Goncalves aren't the best passers of the ball or the most comfortable in a setup where they're required to build up plays from the back, but they aren't often required to given the amount of talent New England have to look to elsewhere. Farrell is more composed on the ball from his earlier days as a right-back and is the one looked to most often to bring the ball out of the back with passes mainly to open wide men or long balls forward to forwards to latch onto while the technically more erratic Goncalves is tasked to play balls similarly, but isn't usually as involved in buildup plays as his partner.

-Seeing as it's been established that New England isn't a team that plays slowly and patiently out of the back, it comes as no surprise that Bobby Shuttleworth's distributive game is majorly all about playing long balls forward instead of short passes, especially given his meager 53.5% passing success average. He isn't comfortable with the ball at his feet, which can be exploited with proper, smart pressurization.

Offensive Transition - how New England plays after winning possession

-With the pace, athleticism, and creativity that they possess in the final third, there's no doubt that New England try to utilize it as often as possible and especially so in counter attacking situations when the front four have spaces to move into. They use long balls, quick circulated passes to players in wide or advanced positions, and their dribbling abilities to attempt to exploit those open spaces on counters and they're dangerous in doing so.

-Kamara usually positions him with his back to goal if he's receiving a high long ball to latch onto and he makes early, well timed runs in behind defenders if there's an opportunity for one of his teammates to play throughballs to him into pockets of space, namely Nguyen or Fagundez. Those two are comfortable with taking players on and often do so in transitional plays when they're on the ball while their vision and creativity also makes them important in any counter attacking forays for their team.

-Rowe and Agudelo are also comfortable with the ball at their feet and like to cut inside and make inward runs where there are teammates available to link up and play combinations with, which Fagundez does similarly although they'll stay wider if they are unable to get support from their fullbacks who supply the width alternatively and try to deliver the ball into a good area for their forward(s) to attack.

-Caldwell and Koffie occasionally play long balls from deeper positions, but they're the most integral players in transitional play given that they're the link between defense and attack so it's crucial that they switch the ball to forward areas as fast as possible whenever they win the ball back to initiate counter attacking opportunities. Given their composure and passing skills with the ball, as well as their individual physical playing styles, they are a difficult pair to bypass in midfield and one that's not incapable of creating chances for their teammates on counters.

-The back four all use the long ball approach as their primary way of getting the ball into the final third for attacking players to get on the end of and initiate counters, although the fullbacks do attempt to carry it forward on occasion, especially Watson, and try to overlap as fast as possible to support their front players and create numerical advantages in wide areas in case New England decide to utilize their spare width and get balls into the box from out wide.

New England's Defensive Setup

-New England play with a four man defensive line that is mainly deployed deep with the centerbacks playing within 20 to 25 yards of their goalkeeper Shuttleworth while the fullbacks are positioned a little further forward and wide because they like to attack on the flanks, as has been established earlier.

-New England's back line does occasionally move up though when the team is dominating possession and pushing the opposition back into a defensive shell, but this doesn't happen often as usually the two midfielders are positioned deep and are instructed to keep their positions, given their strong defensive abilities which come very much in handy whenever the team loses the ball and is countered.

-Caldwell and Koffie both average at least two successful tackles and interceptions a game apiece, which makes them one of the best two-way central midfield pairings in the Eastern Conference in the roles that they have and it's they who lay the foundation for New England's defensive solidity and possession play. When they don't play well, New England suffer on both ends because of it.

-New England like to get as many men behind the ball as possible without leaving enough players forward in case of counter possibilities. The wingers support the fullbacks to avoid allowing numerical advantages for their opponents while Nguyen also drops deeper to help the midfield defensively and offer a close passing option in the event that they win the ball back and try to switch from defense to attack quickly.

-Both fullbacks, Watson and Tierney, are experienced and disciplined enough to know when to defend and when to overlap going forward. They're instructed to help out the attack whenever they can but they're also required to keep their positions so that they don't leave too many spaces behind for opponents to exploit. They have their weaknesses in this regard at times, with Watson it's an issue of concentration and with Tierney he isn't the best defensively which makes him a weak link at the back when he isn't in possession and can be beaten if attacked.

Defensive Transition - how New England plays after losing the ball

-As mentioned in the previous category, they don't often have problems in regards to getting themselves stretched or not having enough men behind the ball when it comes to getting countered, because they always have at least three or four players positioned well defensively thanks to their deep set up.

-With central counter attacks, their approach is for the central defenders and midfielders to deal with them as soon as possible to avert the threats of conceding a goal, which they are usually successful with as the four players in those areas are strong at intercepting and winning balls back as aforementioned.

-With wider counter attacks through the flanks, they like to keep their fullbacks to the man that's on the ball and give them support with the wingers dropping deeper to help them out defensively and avoid allowing numerical advantages for opponents, as mentioned earlier, which creates a difficult assessment for the opposition to try and break before the chance to counter effectively has diminished.

-Despite their approach to dealing with the wide counter threats, they do have weaknesses defending down the flanks with Tierney not being particularly convincing in that area and Watson sometimes showing his lacking concentration levels by committing to leaving his position a few times too often which creates space behind him that opponents try to exploit.

How New England attacks set pieces

-With corners delivered in from the right hand side, they have one man coming short in case they want to play the corner instead of putting it into the box while they have one player attacking the near post with as many as six players standing near the penalty spot ready to attack for headers. The corners are delivered towards that penalty spot where a couple of players stay to challenge aerially while the others make runs to one of the posts in case of any rebounds or flick-ons that give them an opportunity to score. Here is an example: (Image)

-With corners delivered in from the left hand side, they have a similar routine with one player coming short and four or five attacking either the penalty spot or one of the posts with another player standing at the near post. The ball is again delivered towards that same penalty area where men can challenge for headers to try and score, which is why they overload the same spaces altogether. They do have an extra player standing back though on the edge of the box in case for any loose balls or rebounds while the remaining players stay back in case of counter threats. Here is an example: (Image)

-On direct freekick opportunities, they have two players standing over the ball, one right footed and one left footed, with another two close by on either side while there are three of their players that stand in the opposing wall before moving out of it to make room for a shot and another three players are marked by opposing players that are looking to make runs to the near and far posts in case the ball is delivered into the box for a header instead. The remaining players stay back in defense in case of potential counters. Here is an example: (Image)

-As for indirect freekicks, they again have two players standing over the ball, one right footed and one left footed, with another one close by in case they want to play it short while six players are in the box looking to make runs to either post and challenge for headers, particularly on the opposite side of where the freekick is being taken from. The remaining players stay back in defense in case of potentially dangerous counters. Here is an example: (Image)

-Their primary set piece takers are Nguyen and Fagundez for right footed deliveries while Caldwell is the main one in charge for left footed deliveries, but they prefer to have Nguyen in charge of most of them given that he has the best vision, shooting, and creative abilities out of all three players. They aim most of their corners towards the penalty spot where they have a surplus of players standing and waiting to attack them while most of their freekicks are aimed towards the far post which is the right side of opposing goalkeepers.

How New England defend set pieces

-On defending corners, they leave two players standing at each post to deal with any potential headers that come, two players manning the areas next to each of them inside the six yard box as zonal markers, and as many as six more with man marking assignments in the penalty area. They bring all their players back when it comes to defending corners and do it to make the threat of conceding as low as possible. Here is an example: (Image)

Other observations

-New England have created 170 scoring opportunities this year, just 59 of which have been on target, and only 15 which were converted into goals at a conversion rate of 25.4%. Despite their wastefulness in front of goal at times, they do have the fifth most shots on goal in the league and sixth most in terms of chances created which is only likely to become even more impressive with the recent addition of Kamara to their front line.

-They commit a lot of fouls on average with 168 in 12 games making their seasonal average at 14 fouls a game. They have committed the fourth most fouls in the league which makes it clear that they are a very physically minded team despite all the talent they possess going forward.

-New England possess as many as fourteen players who are at least six feet tall, seven of which are considered starters, which makes them on average one of the very tallest teams in the league. Despite that they do often times have issues in defending set pieces, which is why they like to bring as many players back as they can to help on defensive duties to avert this problem.

-With the shooting abilities that players like Nguyen, Caldwell, Koffie, Fagundez, and Agudelo all have,  they often attempt shots from long range distances, shooting 42% of their attempts from outside the eighteen yard penalty areawhich makes them a viable threat in these situations when they have space to take shots on.

-Even though they possess some pace in attack, they have yet to really harness it and are yet to score a counter this season, with almost every one of their fifteen goals coming via a set piece or from open play.

-Despite sitting in a playoff spot currently, New England have struggled to get results this season with just two wins from eleven games, both of which have come at home against NYRB and Chicago. Their defensive problems have been magnified by the injuries they've had at the back while their finishing problems were evident before Kamara's arrival, although many would expect that to subside now that he's there.

-New England have lost each of their last four meetings with FCD without a single goal scored while FCD has lost each of their last three road games without scoring a goal. Something's gotta give in this one.