FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – You know what you're in for when you face the Houston Dynamo.
When the two-time MLS Cup champs visit the New England Revolution on Saturday (7:30 pm ET, MLS LIVE), the match will call for battles on several fronts. The first – and most obvious – involves an unyielding commitment to competing in every facet of the game. Some teams waver from time to time. Dominic Kinnear's Dynamo side does not.
This identity – forged in MLS Cups and reinforced time and again by resolute displays – poses problems for any opponent. For a possession-oriented team like New England, it also creates a gauntlet to cross before attempting to establish its own desired terms in Saturday night's meeting at Gillette Stadium.
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“You not only have to match it, you have to try to bring more,” Revolution coach Jay Heaps told MLSsoccer.com. “But, at the same time, they do it so well. They bring you into frays, they tackle well, they move the ball well when they get the ball.”
Most observers skirt over the last part. Houston – orchestrated by midfielders Brad Davis and Boniek Garcia – maintains possession well after winning the ball (51.3 percent combined in its league matches this season, per Opta statistics).
The direct elements of the Dynamo's approach still remain, but the contemplative side – as exhibited at points in the 2-0 victory over W Connection in Champions League play – exists now as well.
Heaps noted that the Revs must prepare to manage those moments when the Dynamo turn their attention from breaking up the game to cobbling it back together again.
“What I think Houston does really well is bring a really intense atmosphere into the game, but then when the game settles down, they can settle it down quickly and play,” Heaps said. “You're getting riled up, and then all of a sudden, they start playing. You have to be mindful of their transition from rough and tough to a tactical, technical team.”
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In this sort of complex scenario, the Revs understand they must keep their composure (a problem in the last meeting between the teams in July), match the Dynamo's robust intensity from the opening whistle and use the ball wisely in order to thrive. It might look like a long checklist of points to satisfy, but those are the terms of engagement ahead of this critical clash in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
“We have to do our homework and make sure we're prepared, but, at the same time, we have some weapons they are going to have to deal with,” said Revs left back Chris Tierney. “We'll try to impose ourselves on the other team. At home, we'll look to get after them a little bit and make them adjust to us.”
Kyle McCarthy covers the New England Revolution for MLSsoccer.com.