Atlanta United (11-8-6) will host New England (10-12-5) on Wednesday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in a game very important for both teams’ playoff chances.
The Five Stripes are in sixth with 39 points. The Revs are in eighth with 35 points, but have played two more games than Atlanta United. A loss on Wednesday would practically end the team’s chances of making the postseason
Kyle McCarthy covers the New England Revolution and MLS for the Boston Herald and New England Soccer Journal. You can follow him on Twitter @kylejmccarthy.
He answered three questions ahead of the game.
Q: Lee Nguyen is having arguably the best year of his career. What has been the key to his performances and how can Atlanta United slow him down?
A: Nguyen is the midst of perhaps his best year in MLS (nine goals, 14 assists) because he continues to drift into good areas and exploit them deftly. When the Revs are flying, they claim possession in good areas, combine neatly to pull apart stretched defenses and round off the move with precision. His penchant for orchestrating those sequences is critical to the Revs' success. Nguyen credits his ability to find those openings and the ruthlessness of his teammates for his successes this season.
In order to prevent Nguyen from influencing the game, Atlanta United must take care with its distribution out of the back and its midfield shape. Nguyen feasts when teams give the ball away in poor areas (a credit to his improved defensive work rate over the years) and floats from side to side to mine the gaps when the back four is disconnected. Atlanta United must temper his influence by congesting those areas and retaining the ball deftly inside its own half.
Q: Will New England make the playoffs?
A: It might just depend on the result at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. New England left perhaps too much to do with a poor first half of the season, but the Revs inevitably perk up around this time of year and enter this game on the back of two home wins. This group still needs all three points in Atlanta to close the gap with the hosts and provide a more viable pathway to the postseason, though. Another away defeat (10 in 13 matches so far this season) would leave the Revs seven points out with two more games played and would make the road particularly difficult at this stage, even with Atlanta United set to visit Gillette Stadium next month.
Q: How is Cody Cropper, an Atlanta native, doing with the Revs this season?
A: Cropper claimed control of the number one shirt for the Revs during preseason and maintained his grip for the season to date. His performances largely justify his place in the team, though he suffered through a few of the missteps you'd expect from a goalkeeper in his first full season as a starter. His penchant for producing a timely save -- including a couple in the 1-0 victory over Montreal on Saturday -- is particularly helpful for a team prone to lapses in defense.
As you'd expect, Cropper is keeping close tabs on Atlanta United during the club's inaugural season.
"It's a very tough environment," Cropper said after the win over the Impact on Saturday. "I've been following them a lot. Their fanbase is unbelievable. I have friends who have season tickets down there and they say it's incredible. I think they are a very attacking team and they are going to bring attacking power. We really have to be able to adjust and keep our defensive shape. That's going to be huge to take from the last two, three, four games to shut them down as well."