Fresh off last week's upset win over league champion Sporting Kansas City, the New England Revolution (3-3-2, 11 points) get their first crack at a revamped Toronto FC (3-3-0, 9 points) on Saturday at BMO Field. Kickoff is set for 1:00 p.m. ET.
Toronto, the perennial conference doormat, made a number of momentous moves during the offseason, adding Michael Bradley, Jermain Defoe, Gilberto and Julio Cesar to bolster the roster. Though the Reds jumped out to a bright start (3-1-0), injuries have conspired against Toronto as of late, with a 2-1 loss to FC Dallas serving as the latest setback.
New England may not have splashed as much cash as their neighbors to the north during the offseason, but the Revs are nevertheless finding ways to win this season. Case in point: last week's dramatic 2-0 victory over Sporting Kansas City, a game which saw the Revolution snag a pair of stoppage time strikes to send the defending champs back to Kansas City with nary a point in their pocket.
With Toronto looking to rediscover its form, and the Revolution riding the momentum of a three-game unbeaten streak, here's what to watch for on Saturday:
The Revolution won't be fooled by the metrics: As talented as Toronto is, the Reds have stumbled in a couple of key areas. Among the stats in which the Reds find themselves dead last: Possession (39.3 percent) and passing accuracy (71.4 percent). Even though Toronto may not be playing like a powerhouse at the moment, Revolution coach Jay Heaps believes that they remain a dangerous team nevertheless.
"They've gotten a couple of early leads, and those are different situations (where) possession is kind of a (misleading stat)," said Heaps. "It's what kind of possession you're looking for. But for me, I think that they strike, and they have the ability to strike, with Defoe and Gilberto."
How long can Jermain Defoe go? The high-priced striker has certainly warmed up to playing in MLS, what with three goals in his first three games. But his hot start was cut short by a nagging hamstring strain that has sidelined him for the Reds' last three matches. Last week's well-timed bye gave Defoe and the rest of the walking wounded extra time to recover ahead of Saturday's match, to be sure. However, if Toronto is going to snap its two-game funk, the Reds will need Defoe on the pitch for as long as possible against the Revolution.
Can the Revolution shake the BMO Field curse? Though Toronto hasn't been a strong side over the years by any stretch of the imagination, the Reds have been unbeatable when the Revolution come to town. Going back to Toronto's inaugural season (2007), the Revolution have gone 0-2-5 at BMO Field. But earlier this week, Revolution center back AJ Soares dismissed the notion that playing at Toronto's home pitch is tougher than any other venue in MLS.
"It's just like playing anywhere else, really," Soares said. "There's nothing about it that makes it (more) difficult. Anytime you go on the road, and you have fans that are basically hoping that you mess up, or hoping that your team loses, it's difficult."
Will Heaps keep Teal Bunbury on the wing for a second straight week? Sensing that changes were necessary to spark his team's attack, Heaps stationed Bunbury out on the right, and gave Jerry Bengtson the nod up top last week against Kansas City. The switch paid dividends, as Bunbury scored the game-winner in stoppage time. But as good as Bunbury played, Bengtson seemed to struggle and added little to the offense. It remains to be seen whether Heaps is comfortable with that tradeoff, or whether another change is in the works.
Team defending the key against the revamped Reds: With Bradley healthy, Defoe ready to return, and Gilberto anxious to open his account, the Revolution will certainly have their hands full on Saturday. But after keeping Kansas City -- another talented, attack-minded side -- off the board last week, Revolution defender Andrew Farrell believes that each of his teammates will be counted upon put pressure on the Reds in possession, and win second balls, from start to finish.
"It's has to be a team effort again," Farrell said. "All 11 guys have to defend and attack. It's going to be a hard fought game. We have to shut them down up top, obviously. If you don't concede any goals, then you always have a chance to win."