Following all the hype and hoopla surrounding the Jermaine Jones signing earlier this week, it's back to the task at hand for the New England Revolution (9-12-3, 30 points), who head to BMO Field on Saturday to take on Toronto FC (9-8-6, 33 points). Kickoff is set for 5 p.m. ET.
It's uncertain whether Jones, the club's most expensive addition ($4.7 million over 18 months) to date, will be ready to go for Saturday's clash. The 32-year-old midfielder is nearly two full months removed from his last meaningful match, the United States' 2-1 loss to Belgium in the round of 16 at the World Cup on July 1.
Regardless, the sixth-place Revolution enter the Labor Day weekend with renewed confidence thanks to a 1-0 win over Chivas USA last week. While it won't go down as the most impressive victory of the season, the three points they pocketed could put their recent struggles behind them and, with improved form, possibly spur a late-season run similar to the one seen last year.
One team that's not looking to reprise any scenes from 2013 is Toronto, who find themselves above the red line this late in the season for the first time in club history. Thanks to a revamped roster that's finally starting to find its form, the third-place Reds have gone unbeaten in four of their last five. But last weekend, they were forced to settle for a disappointing 2-2 draw to Chicago, a result they'd surely like to put behind them on Saturday.
With only three points separating the Revolution and Reds, here's what to watch for on Saturday.
• Revs' confidence restored. Beating one of the worst teams in the league at home by only a single goal may not look great on paper, but don't tell that to midfielder Kelyn Rowe. The third-year midfielder, who assisted on the goal against Chivas USA, pointed out a number of positives during Thursday's media scrum. Among them: the stellar play of Bobby Shuttleworth, who made a couple of heady saves, as well as Scott Caldwell, who completed 88 percent of his passes.
"It's good to have that confidence again, going in 1-0, and we can still grind this out and get a win," Rowe told the media on Thursday. "But obviously, we want a [few] more."
• Can Charlie Davies get back on the score sheet? Last week's match marked the first time in four weeks that the club's most potent weapon of late didn't factor into the scoring. Davies, who collected two goals and an assist in the weeks leading up to the Chivas USA clash, may not have extended his point streak, but he wasn't a complete nonfactor. He completed 89 percent of his passes and drew four fouls around the area, creating a couple of dangerous set-piece opportunities. Although Toronto isn't likely to give Davies much space to operate, his ability to link with teammates may give him the opportunity to pick up his second assist of the season.
• Team defense key against counterattacking Reds. Much like Chivas USA, Toronto lives and dies by the counterattack. For proof of that, one need only look at its overall possession number: 45.2 percent, which ranks 17th in all of MLS. But a team that catches its opponent off guard can often be more dangerous than a squad that holds the ball with greater frequency. Central midfielder Michael Bradley is one of the best at reading opponents' weaknesses, and his well-timed passes have sprung countless opportunities for his teammates. In light of that, the Revolution have to remain on high alert for the entire 90.
"It's just going to come down to when we get on the field," Revolution center back AJ Soares said Thursday. "Do we execute? Do we make little plays here and there? And do we take every play seriously, and not turn off at all? If we do those things, we should be fine."
• Road form must improve. If the Revolution harbor any hopes of springing another late-season run toward the postseason, one of their first orders of business is simply performing better on the road. They've not only lost five straight away from Gillette Stadium since mid-May, but they've been outscored 13-3 during that span.
So where do the Revolution start? As a defender, Andrew Farrell may be biased, but he recently told the media that a team always gives itself a chance to win by keeping its opponent off the board. To that end, look for the Revolution to key in on defense down the stretch, especially on the road, where points always come at a greater premium.
• Expect a gritty, no-frills kind of game. Saturday's contest isn't likely to be a reminder of why soccer is often called "the beautiful game." In fact, the way Farrell tells it, beauty will be in short supply with two conference foes fighting for playoff spots down the stretch. While the Reds may hold a three-point advantage in the standings with a game in hand over the Revolution, the sophomore fullback believes both sides will be looking to grind out a result.
"[Toronto] has to make sure they get all the points they can, so it's going to be a gritty game," Farrell sad. "I think it's going to be a tough battle, but I'm excited, and the guys are excited to take on a good Toronto FC team."