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Opposition Research: What should the Chicago Fire expect from the New England Revolution?

The two old foes open the 2021 MLS season Saturday in Chicago

New England Revolution v Chicago Fire
Chicago’s Mauricio Pineda and New England’s Adam Buksa battle for the ball during the Revs’ 2-1 win over Chicago last fall at Soldier Field

So what can the Chicago Fire expect from the New England Revolution Saturday at Soldier Field (7:30 p.m. CT, WGN-TV & CFFC Live)? The Revs rode an 8th place finish to the Eastern Conference Final in 2020, eventually losing out to the Columbus Crew.

After last season, expectations are sky high. But six of the Revs’ eight regular season wins came against Montreal (3x) and D.C. United (3x), with the other two coming over NYCFC, and, yes, the Fire.

So, how good are the Revs? For that, we enlisted the help of Jake Catanese of SB Nation’s The Bent Musket.

Patrick McCraney: Here in Chicago, we’d be pretty thrilled with, say, a fifth place finish. Any kind of improvement would be welcome. But in New England, it’s pretty much MLS Cup or bust, isn’t it?

Jake Catanese: I hesitate to say MLS Cup or Bust simply because if any team in the league knows how hard it is to win that stupid cup, it’s the Revs. (Goes to corner and cries)

Okay, I’m better now. But seriously, MLS Cup is the level of play I think Bruce Arena expects to be at and it’s really only taken him a year and a half in New England (during a pandemic) to get the Revs back on the doorstep of a trophy. But New England is in an interesting spot, because their title window may be open for only as long as Matt Turner is with the team, and he’s going to be very in demand on the transfer market this winter I suspect. We saw the Revs put it all together for a playoff run last year, the question now is can they do it for six months with the element of surprise already gone. It’s going to be very interesting to see how the Revs adjust from their preferred role as more of a sleeper or darkhorse to being a favorite going into 2021.

Patrick: The Revs added a few new guys in the off season—Arnor Traustason, Christian Mafla, and Wilfrid Kaptoum. What can we expect from these three, and of them, who are you most excited to watch?

Jake: Traustason and Mafla are going to be tasked with solving the revolving door that is the Revs left flank, with Mafla at outside back and Traustason as a playmaker type from his preferred left wing spot. The Revs have tried just about everything to make that flank dangerous, and while Alexander Buttner and Cristian Penilla were decent creators last year, New England really needs that flank to have a greater impact and balance out the other side of the field where an in-cutting Gil and overlapping Buchanan were so great in the playoffs.

But it’s Wilfrid Kaptoum that perhaps interests me the most. While Matt Polster did a phenomenal job stabilizing the center of the Revs midfield last year coming in midseason, the Revs really lacked creativity in the middle of the field with Gil out injured. If Kaptoum can impact both sides of the ball, and in particular hit a few of those killer deep lying diagonal balls that Jermaine Jones used to play a few years back to open up the attack, the Revs are absolutely going to be the favorites everyone thinks they can be.

Patrick: Overall, how does the Revs fanbase feel about the job Bruce Arena is doing there? It seemed like fans were a bit down on the hire initially (Couva was probably to blame). Has winning helped make Bruce a popular figure in New England?

Jake: It’s hard to fully blame Arena for the mess he inherited during that 2018 WCQ campaign, so that isn’t why Revs fans were kind of lukewarm on the hire...the correct answer to that trivia question is Bruce beating the Revs in the 2014 Cup Final. That photo of him drinking champagne out of the bottle postgame still upsets me...

But Bruce is always going to be a popular figure, he’s a living legend in US Soccer and MLS. If he lifts an MLS Cup with New England as well it’s just another peak for someone else to climb to get him off the top of the proverial mountain. Even more important than winning, Arena’s legacy will always be tied to the fact that when the Krafts wanted to get out of MLS 2.0 (or even 1.0) and into the DP era several years too late, they called on the best and it shows. No one builds better teams in MLS than Arena and he’s done it everywhere he goes. If this team gets to the top with the Revs, by far the most cursed MLS Cup team in the league, it will be 6 MLS Cups with 3 different MLS clubs in 3 different decades.

Patrick: What’s your prediction for Saturday?

Jake: I really like the Revs chances to get out to a fast start this season especially with the first three matches counting towards US Open Cup “qualifying.” New England usually are slow starters in the regular season but this is not the year to be sitting around midtable, I’m going to predict a tough 2-0 win cause I know the Fire will be make the Revs work hard for this one, with goals from Adam Buksa and Carles Gil.