Atlanta United (8-3-1) are looking to defend their place at the top of the Supporters’ Shield standings as they travel North to face the New England Revolution (5-4-3). The Five Stripes have won four straight road matches, their best run away from home in team history, but the Revs are always a tough proposition on their home turf. Here are some of the key players that the red, black and gold will have to stop to remain on top of the Supporters’ Shield standings:
Acquired on loan from Liga MX side Pachuca in the offseason, Ecuadorian forward Cristian Penilla is building a darkhorse case for MLS Newcomer of the Year. Equally adept on the wing or more centrally as a second striker, Penilla is a strong forward with plenty of pace to burn. That’s turned into end product so far this year, with Penilla already totaling nine goals and assists combine, more than all but three players for New England for all of last season. He’s often the x factor for the Revs, capable of beating players one-on-one and starting the momentum of the attack toward their opponents’ goal. There may be no one more important for the defense to be watching on Wednesday.
The Midfield Anchor
Much has been made of New England’s defensive press this year, and the orchestrator of that defensive shape in the center of midfield is newly-acquired Wilfried Zahibo. The French 24-year-old spent time in the top divisions of France and Spain and brings quality to the center of the park for the Revolution. Tactically disciplined and with a nose to break up play, he’s also chipped in with an impressive three goals and four assists so far in his first season with the club. But his main role is defensively, patrolling in front of the back line and cleaning up any stray balls that comes near him. Atlanta United will have to overload that part of the field and avoid letting him take on their players one-on-one to get past the French wall in front of their back line.
The Rock in the Back
The New England Revolution are a tough prospect in their home venue. A physical side on a pitch that can be a bit bumpy, they’re a team with a lot of strength that thrives on breaking up their opponents’ rhythm and attacking them in the air. No one sums that up better than Andrew Farrell. The number one overall pick in the 2013 MLS SuperDraft, Farrell has been a fixture in the Revolution back line ever since. Capable of playing right back or centrally, he has been deployed as the right center back in Brad Friedel’s three center back defense recently this season. Farrell will look to use his strength to overpower Atlanta United's creators off the ball, so Five Stripes attackers will have to rely on their quickness to stay out of his reach. And after Farrell’s first MLS goal earlier this year, Atlanta United will have to be wary of his ability to get forward as well.
Wednesday’s match kicks off at 7:30 p.m. EST, and will be broadcast on Fox Sports South. Click here for everything you need to know about how to follow along from home.