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Toronto FC hits the road again, looking to get right balance in tactics

05/15/2015 04:40 EDT | Updated 05/15/2016 05:59 EDT
After a brief stop at home, it's back on the road for Toronto FC.

Saturday's game in New England is the ninth away game in 11 outings in all competitions this season for Toronto (3-5-0 in MLS play). It's also the fifth match in two weeks for Toronto.

The lopsided schedule, due to renovations at BMO Field, has caused some tactical headaches for Toronto. Leaking goals on the road, it adopted a more defensive formation by playing two flat lines of four in midfield and the backline.

But that proved too passive in last Sunday's home opener against Houston, a 2-1 loss. And head coach Greg Vanney was forced to play a more aggressive style, with fullbacks thundering up the wings and a more attacking midfield diamond formation as Toronto chased goals in a midweek Amway Canadian Championship semifinal against Montreal.

Toronto won 3-2 on the night but lost the two-game series on the away goals rule with the aggregate tied at 3-3.

Expect a formation somewhere in the middle Saturday, with Toronto returning to the flat lines without the ball and expanding to the diamond midfield with it.

Toronto designated players Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco were outstanding Wednesday. Altidore had a goal and set up the other two, including one by Giovinco. Bradley, playing a more forward role, was also influential.

Whatever the formation, give it to Giovinco has been an effective strategy for Toronto.

"He's exciting, he can do a lot of things," said Vanney. "At any given moment, he can break open a game. That's why it's important for us to make sure that we keep him involved and get him the ball when we can.

"And not just sit and watch, but actually move off of him. And I think that's something we'll continue to get better at as we continue to feed him the ball and get used to each other."

The opposition realizes that. Giovinco has taken a beating from defenders, prompting an irritated Vanney to ask Wednesday when the league would actually move to protect its top talent.

Still the five-foot-four Italian playmaker survived Wednesday evening without significant damage.

"He's a smaller version but he reminds me a lot of Cobi Jones," said Vanney, referencing the former U.S. international. "Cobi was a guy who played a ton of games and got crushed a lot of times, but he would always bounce up. He was a tough character."

The Revolution (5-2-3) will be a tough ask on the unforgiving artificial turf of Gillette Stadium.

New England is unbeaten in eight games (5-0-3) but gave up two goals in the last 15 minutes in a 2-2 tie in Orlando last time out.

The Revolution are also unbeaten at home (3-0-2) where they have conceded just two goals.

New England won all three games between the teams a year ago, including a pair of victories at BMO Field.

Saturday's matchup features two in-form strikers.

Altidore has five goals in seven league games. New England's Charlie Davis, who played with Toronto defender Damien Perquis in France at Sochaux, has scored in his last four games.

Davis posted a picture on Twitter this week, showing he and Altidore celebrating with the U.S. national team. "Playing against my brother @jozyaltidore this weekend for the first time," he said.

Canadian-born U.S. international Bunbury has two goals for New England, both game-winners.

Veteran Toronto defender Steven Caldwell remains out with leg issues. Goalie Joe Bendik, who has missed the last four games with a foot injury, is questionable. But fullback Mark Bloom, who had been sidelined with a quad issue and more recently back spasms, is available.

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