Hot Time: New England's results haven't been amazing so far, but the underlying metrics tell us they're a pretty good MLS side. What needs to happen to translate the Revs' ability to create good chances into wins?
The Bent Musket: I do find it fascinating that the analytics/metrics/advanced stats/etc, think the Revolution are good at soccer. Mostly the Revs have one of the best offenses in the league, or at least they create a ton of chances and the defense has improved tremendously from last season thanks to Antonio Delamea and Benjamin Angoua in particular. The Revs also have played most of their games against the Western Conference, meaning their schedule has been among the most difficult in MLS so far.
The Revs have always been able to create good chances on the attack. What the Revs have been horrendous at, especially on the road, is closing out games to get results. A blown 3-0 lead in Seattle comes to mind in particular as well as not attacking after an early goal in Dallas. The Revs are not a team that can just sit back and defend, they need to relieve pressure on the backline by counter attacking and scoring more goals. New England has been dominant at home, very similar to Chicago, but they'll need to start getting some road wins if they want to be a threat in the Eastern Conference in October.
HT: In terms of top-end talent, it's hard to beat the Fire's central midfield, but the Revs have possibly the deepest central midfield in MLS. I mean, seriously - rating them most defensive to most attacking, you've got Caldwell, Kouassi, Koffie, Rowe, Kobayashi and Nguyen all mixing-and-matching for the three spots in the center of the New England formation. How has Heaps handled this depth, and what should we expect to see Saturday in the middle for the Revs?
TBM: I think Heaps has done very well rotating his midfield, and the diamond formation has been a good move for the Revs overall. Diego Fagundez, who you forgot to mention, has arguably been the team's MVP with his play the first half of the season as a shuttling center mid. Kelyn Rowe has spent some time at fullback but is amazing no matter where he is on the field. Even someone like Daigo Kobayashi, who's a fantastic utility midfielder in a diamond setup, has been solid off the bench and in spot starts. The bad news is that Xavier Kouassi, who scored the equalizer at Yankee Stadium a few weeks back, will miss this game and a few more with a hamstring issue.
The good news is, Gershon Koffie is back on loan after a brief offseason stint with Hammarby in Sweden so I expect him to get the start at holding midfield. Fagundez will likely be one half of the middle, probably with Rowe since Caldwell started the USOC game midweek. Then the usual suspects of Nguyen, Juan Agudelo and Kei Kamara probably rounding out the top of the formation. With Kouassi out, this limits what the Revs can do with their subs and tactics late in the match. Ideally it would be awesome to trot out both Kouassi and Koffie in a 4-2-3-1 to close out games but Caldwell can do the holding role just fine as well. If the Revs do have a lead late, it will be interesting to see how Heaps uses his bench.
HT: In the first Fire-Revs game, Je-Vaughn Watson smoothed the way for the Men in Red with ill discipline. Will we see mighty mighty Je-Vaughn again Saturday, or have the Revs found another solution on their defensive flanks?
TBM: Left back is still a bit of an issue for the Revs but Chris Tierney has been healthy and has improved tremendously from his early season form. I have to assume that hip injury was really affecting his play but now that he's closer to 100% between him and Rowe I don't think we'll see Watson in this game at least for the start. Watson's discipline has been an issue of late, not just the first game in Chicago, and he's been walking yellow card on the field and a borderline liability because of it.
Andrew Farrell has been solid on the right side and Kelyn Rowe has been the third fullback most of the year. This means less playing time for now Open Cup hero Donnie Smith who might've been the heir apparent to Tierney at the left back spot and reserve utility defender London Woodberry. You'll probably see the full strength first line defense from New England tonight.
PROJECTED LINEUP (4-4-2 Diamond): Cody Cropper; Chris Tierney, Benjamin Angoua, Antonio Delamea, Andrew Farrell; Gershon Koffie, Diego Fagundez, Kelyn Rowe, Lee Nguyen; Juan Agudelo, Kei Kamara
My answers to Jake’s questions are published here on TBM.
Happy matchday! Dalé Fire!