FOXBOROUGH, Mass.—Columbus Crew SC spent the first part of Sunday's match pulling apart the New England Revolution’s midfield diamond. Ola Kamara scored the opening goal in the 20th minute. Crew SC threatened to grab a second shortly after.
As Revolution coach Jay Heaps monitored the increasingly perilous predicament from the sideline, he felt compelled to take drastic action.
Heaps scribbled out his instructions and sent them out to Revolution forward Diego Fagundez. The resulting switch – a transition to what Heaps called a 4-2-3-1 – flattened out the midfield, reduced the spaces afforded to Crew SC and set the stage for Fagundez’s star turn to decide the game.
“It’s the first time I’ve ever had to pass a note in my career,” Heaps told MLSsoccer.com after the Revs’ 2-1 victory over Crew SC on Sunday.
By limiting Columbus’ ability to cut out two or three players with one pass, the Revs addressed the concerns about their shape and placed themselves in a better position to apply pressure as Crew SC built out of the back.
The opening goal – created when Femi Hollinger-Janzen shaded his man into a congested area and spurred a turnover for Fagundez’s equalizer – showed how the tweak compensated for the absence of Scott Caldwell (restricted to a late sub appearance due to illness) and placed the Revs in a better position to thrive against a possession-oriented opponent.
“We were in a little bit better break position,” Heaps said. “We were in better blocks defensively. And we knew that. We thought that with Scotty, we could switch it around and get into that diamond formation against them. Ultimately, if you’re a little bit late and someone is not in the right spot, they hurt you. We had to switch that.”
Recently returned midfielder Gershon Koffie strengthened the shift when he replaced Hollinger-Janzen at halftime. Koffie partnered with Xavier Kouassi in the center of the park in the second half to condense the space in the final third and restrict the operating area usually plundered by Federico Higuain and Justin Meram.
“I really like it,” Koffie said. “I played 45 minutes with him. I enjoyed every second on the field. I think he’s a good guy and he works his socks off.”
As the Revs move forward with Koffie in tow, they now boast the flexibility to alter their midfield calculus depending on the requirements from match to match, with or without a timely note.