FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – The recent exploits of Columbus' newest Designated Player have not gone unnoticed in New England.
Crew enganche Federico Higuaín impressed Revolution coach Jay Heaps with his work in his first two MLS appearances. Now Heaps and the Revs must find a way to do what Houston and Toronto FC could not do ahead of Saturday's visit to Crew Stadium (7:30 pm ET; watch LIVE online): limit the Argentine schemer's influence on the match.
It won't be an easy objective because Higuaín slides into spaces that make him difficult to track between the lines, according to Heaps.
“The false nine in the 4-2-3-1 – or however you want to put it – finds a lot of the ball,” Heaps told MLSsoccer.com. “When you mark it well, you shut teams down. When you don't, you get picked apart a little bit. Higuaín's moving well. He's a good, hard worker. He's an honest player. He makes that team a lot better because he's so simple, he can get off players and he's always an option.”
New England struggled to close down the space afforded to Fire forward Chris Rolfe in a similar formation during a 2-1 defeat at Toyota Park last Saturday, but Higuaín presents a different task with his ability to link up with canny striker Jairo Arrieta and his desire to move freely to find time and space on the ball.
Revolution midfielder Clyde Simms said he and his teammates must rely on their defensive shape and their trust in each other to reduce the threat posed by the in-form Crew forwards.
“The way we're playing, it's more zoning,” Simms said. “You have to take care of your area. At the same time, we cover for one another. We've been working on it a lot. We know where our responsibilities are defensively in certain spots on the field. The biggest things are staying organized, making sure our shape is good and communicating when they make those vertical runs.”
Arrieta and Higuaín usually receive support from the likes of Eddie Gaven and one of Dilly Duka, Justin Meram or Emilio Rentería, all potential options on the flank Gaven doesn't patrol.
Heaps would like to see his own players exploit the space potentially afforded when the Crew push players forward and implement some of those attacking principles in their own game as they attempt to end a run of six defeats in seven matches.
“One of the things we've been working on this week and the past couple of weeks is make sure we make those penetrating runs,” Heaps said. “We need to defend well in the areas we need to defend, but we also have to have the ability to penetrate behind their lines and really try to push them back. Teams are really stacking the midfield with these new formations. We have to find a way through that.”
Revolution midfielder Lee Nguyen could help to devise a solution to that particular problem if he is deemed fit enough to feature after recovering from a left ankle sprain suffered against the Fire. Nguyen traveled to Columbus with the club on Friday afternoon, but Heaps said he planned to wait until the team arrived before making a decision regarding his availability on Saturday night.