HT: The Revolution attacking 4-1-4-1 was simply my favorite wrinkle of MLS 2014, even if it fell short at the final hurdle. How is this year's alignment different than last year's? Where is it familiar?
TBM: Well, to start you have to understand that when the Revs were on that enormous hot streak at the end of 2014 they weren't really playing a 4-1-4-1, it was more of a 4-2-3-1. Splitting hairs, maybe, but it's important to note that Jermaine Jones started from deep and roamed all over the pitch. However, he was primarily a defensive midfielder, he just had license to play box-to-box. The 4-1-4-1 was something the Revs did a lot more in 2013, when Clyde Simms, Scott Caldwell, or Andy Dorman sat four yards in front of the back line, breaking up attacks and recycling possession forward to Lee Nguyen and Kelyn Rowe in the middle.
All that said, things haven't changed too much from 2014. The obvious difference is the inclusion of Juan Agudelo on the wing; he wasn't there last year, and he brings a whole different element of size, skill, and goalscoring instincts to the left side. This is also a team that enjoys the cross a lot more, especially with London Woodberry providing service from the right nearly the equal of Chris Tierney's top-class service on the left.
Otherwise, the major difference is that Jermaine Jones hasn't been in midfield. He's been hurt, then he was filling in defensively, and now he's hurt again. The combination of Scott Caldwell and Andy Dorman is different in that the two of them alternate going forward a lot more, but also the lack of Jones removes a level of dynamism that the Revs truly enjoyed last season. Caldwell has been stepping up big time and advancing his offensive game in the USA star's absence, but that kind of tireless energy and world-class talent is impossible to replace.
HT: How goes the acclimation of Andrew Farrell to centerback? Have he and Jose Gonçalves shown signs of growing into a partnership?
TBM: Andrew Farrell is an upper-echelon center-back in this league. I have no qualms putting him up against almost any other defender in the league and betting he'll hold his own, if not beat them outright. This is an incredible turnaround from the beginning of the season, when he had two of the worst games of his life - his words. Now, anything good happening in the defense can be laid at his feet. He's hardly put a foot wrong in over two months. The question is not whether or not Farrell will handle the transition to center-back; it's how long it will take him to transition to an international-level center-back.
As for his partnership with Jose Goncalves, it's coming along. Surprisingly, though, the weakness there is probably Goncalves, not Farrell. Initially, they did not play off each other well because both are adventurous and athletic center-backs who like to play the ball out of the back. That lead to miscues, constant positional issues, and bad giveaways. It made Revolution fans truly respect and appreciate what A.J. Soares did as the disciplined foil and near-telepathic partner for Goncalves. Since then, they've settled in better and it seems as though Goncalves and Farrell understand each other much more. The defense hasn't played that great lately, but I'm confident they can figure it out and be above-average in MLS at least.
HT: Talk, if you would, about the renaissance of Charlie Davies. The numbers indicate that he's one of the most effective strikers in the league. How is he different than the brash youngster who scored in Azteca? How is he similar?
TBM: Well, Chuck D is different because he isn't raw, young, and blindingly fast anymore. I'm certainly not going to beat him in a footrace anytime soon, but that game-breaking, you'll-never-catch-me speed that made him so special in 2009 went away forever on that fateful night at the George Washington Parkway. Charlie is no longer reliant on his speed. Though he still accelerates very well in bursts, he now relies on ghost-like movement and attuned goalscoring instincts to get things done. He's also expanded his game to include competent hold-up play and some serious creativity. This has lead to Charlie creating chances, harassing defenses with and without the ball, and scoring goals both beautiful and ugly, with foot and head.
What he never lost, and what makes him the same, is that swagger. Charlie is the type of guy that steps out on the pitch and demands the ball, believes he's the best player on the field, and wants to prove it. A lot of strikers are confidence players, and while Davies is no different in that regard, he's so abundantly full of confidence that even in a drought, he still believes enough in himself to keep plugging away until he makes a breakthrough. Watching Charlie work has always been a pleasure, and it still is.
HT: I wrote this about the rescheduling of this game. I expect there may be Revs-centric issues I overlooked, or undervalued ... please feel free to set the record straight.
TBM: I honestly was not sure how or why that change was made. The way you put it definitely makes it seem as though the rescheduling benefited the Revs, but I would remind you of the following: A) Jones' twitchy groin is not coming around. He's going to be out for a long while; and B) The Revs start the Open Cup midweek next week as well, so that disadvantage cleaves both ways. Ironically, the only one of the Jones/Agudelo/Nguyen triumvirate you were discussing who is available is Nguyen, and frankly he's been the worst player of the three all year. (EDIT: It has since been confirmed that Agudelo is with the team, but his availability for minutes on Saturday is still uncertain.) I'm not saying the move benefited the Fire, but this match does not hold a distinct advantage for the Revs, either.
Predicted lineup: Shuttleworth; Tierney, Farrell, Goncalves, Woodberry; Caldwell, Dorman; Rowe, Nguyen, Bunbury; Davies
Prediction: I think the Revs snap out of it at home, even lacking Jones and Agudelo. 2-1 to the Revs.