It was a challenge that the Revolution were well aware of going into Saturday's game against Real Salt Lake.
Despite the fact that Salt Lake had gone winless in three of its previous four prior, the Revolution knew one thing for sure: they’d have to contend with a methodical, yet unmerciful midfield.
"We feel that Salt Lake’s pride and joy is in the midfield,” Revolution central midfielder Clyde Simms said following Saturday’s 2-1 Revolution loss. “That’s where they like to play. They stay tight both offensively and defensively, so we try to clog up the middle and change their game plan a little bit.”
In the hopes of taming Salt Lake, Revolution head coach Jay Heaps had a plan. Rather than going with a four-man midfield, Heaps went with five in the middle, hoping to limit space to stifle Salt Lake’s measured attack.
But even Heaps knew that it would take more than numbers to deal with a team whose midfield and forwards have a symbiotic understanding of each other.
“They are a veteran team and they have that cohesiveness when the going gets tough,” Heaps said. “They know that they can lean on each other.”
And on Saturday, the Revolution didn’t have to wait long to feel the effects of their adversary’s dangerous form. Thirty seconds after the opening whistle, Fabian Espindola crashed the area and pressed keeper Matt Reis into action on a heady save and subsequent clearance. So much for slowly easing into the match.
But, then again, the Revolution expected it to be that kind of game. Even after Blake Brettschneider's 22nd minute strike, Salt Lake’s midfield pressed the issue -- and then pressed it some more.
Taking advantage of a pair of defensive miscues, Salt Lake’s midfield set the table for striker Alvaro Saborio to grab the equalizer and game-winner in the 33rd and 55th minutes, respectively.
“Some of the goals given up have been a little soft,” Simms said. “We will work on that and get better to be able to become a tough team.”
The Revolution dusted themselves off and created chances of their own after Saborio's second strike. But they had another tall hurdle ahead of them: Salt Lake goalkeeper Nick Rimando.
In the final 20 minutes, the All-Star 'keeper dazzled. In the 72nd minute, he made a pair of diving saves against Brettschneider and Fernando Cardenas in the 72nd minute, and snuffed out a stoppage time breach when Benny Feilhaber went alone on him inside the area.
"We give credit where credit is due," Heaps said. "Rimando had a nice game. He had some good saves (and) kept their guys where they are."
In the end, the challenges presented by Salt Lake’s midfielders -- as well as Rimando -- were simply too much for the Revolution to overcome. Even so, Simms was encouraged by the way his teammates never backed down when Salt Lake showed its teeth.
“We feel like we are playing great soccer,” Simms said. “(We’re) just a little unfortunate with our results.”
Brian O'Connell is covering the Revolution for ESPNBoston.com. He is the co-founder of New England Soccer Today (www.nesoccertoday.com), which covers professional soccer within New England. He can be reached at BOConnell21@aol.com.