The New England Revolution will have their hands full trying to contain one of the top scorers while looking to beat one of the best goalkeepers in MLS.
After posting their first road win this season by beating defending MLS Cup champion Toronto 3-2 last Saturday, the Revolution open a stretch in which they play three of their next four matches at Gillette Stadium, where they are 4-1-1 in 2018.
To get off to a good start, New England (5-3-2) will have to try to stop Zardes and score against a defense anchored by Steffen.
Zardes, a forward, was named the league’s player of the week on Tuesday. On May 10, he scored twice to power Columbus to a 3-0 win over the Chicago Fire. Three nights earlier, Zardes registered the lone goal in a 1-0 victory over the Philadelphia Union.
“Zardes is on fire. We’re going to have our hands full with him as any team has had their hands full with him as of late,” New England defender Jalil Anibaba said of the California native, who enters play this week tied with Josef Martinez of Atlanta United for the MLS Golden Boot lead with eight goals.
The Crew are 0-3-3 when Steffen allows a goal, but head coach Gregg Berhalter told the team’s official website that Columbus’ defensive prowess goes deeper than Steffen.
“I think the group has gotten to a place where they understand defending is about 11 guys,” Berhalter said. “We want to press together as a unit, we want to be compact as a team — and when we can do that it is very difficult to create goal-scoring opportunities against us.”
With 21 points, Columbus (6-3-3) is tied with New York City FC for second in the Eastern Conference. However, the Crew are just 1-2-2 on the road this year — and haven’t scored away from home since Zardes’ first goal of 2018 in the 46th minute of a season-opening 2-0 win over defending MLS Cup champion Toronto FC on March 3.
In their last match, the Revolution were led by Cristian Penilla as he notched a brace in the opening seven minutes. The Ecuadorian midfielder is second on the team in goals (four) — one behind Teal Bunbury — and first in shots (29) through his first 10 MLS matches.
“He’s showed it not even just this season but in preseason when we first played, we saw spurts of it and we’re going, ‘Wow, this guy’s really good on the ball,’” New England midfielder Kelyn Rowe said.
New England will be without midfielder Diego Fagundez (yellow-card accumulation). The Massachusetts native is tied for third on the team with three goals. Head coach Brad Friedel has several possibilities to fill the spot.
“We can play numerous players in the 10 position. Penilla can even play as a 10. There’s a lot of options and that’s a good thing with the squad that we have,” Friedel said.
The Revs and Crew played to a 2-2 draw on April 21 in Columbus, Ohio. Each team has 15 wins with six ties in the all-time series in Foxborough, Mass.