Before you settle in for another match preview by Martin Tomszak, take a listen to the latest episode of the Fire Confidential Live podcast. Fire goalkeeper Jon Busch is the guest. The fan favorite talks candidly about his departure in 2010, his return to the team, playing with Cuauhtemoc Blanco, the problems that the current squad is experiencing, and his plans for the future.
What Are They All About? New England Revolution Preview
Exasperation, frustration, irritation, blood curdling anger. These are a few descriptors applicable to the mood of Fire fans over the last few weeks. Chicago heads to Foxborough, MA on Saturday having lost two in a row, and having only won one of their last seven matches. They have let leads slip away. They’ve made countless defensive blunders, lost their shape and sense of tactics, and lacked discipline at the most inopportune times. If they don’t discover a way to avoid collapses, the season might slowly slip away from their grasp. New England is on a bit of a poor run as well and when the sides meet at Gillette Stadium, there will certainly be drama.
New England Form Guide (Last 5 Matches): L-D-D-L-D
Previous match: A 2-0 away loss to Portland.
Formation in the last match: 4-2-3-1: Shuttleworth; Tierny, Goncalves, Farrell, Woodberry; Dorman, Caldwell; Rowe, Nguyen, Bunbury; Davies
Strengths: While it may be true that New England is winless in its last six matches, this won’t worry the 2014 MLS Cup runners up. The squad is largely unchanged from the side that came close to lifting the cup last season, with the only major loss being Patrick Mullins’ move to NYCFC in the expansion draft. The Revs made up for his departure by signing attack minded midfielder and U.S. international Juan Agudelo to his second stint with the team. This leaves New England with the same fast paced attacking style of play that they have become known for. It is clearly working for them because with a third of the season already gone, the Revs find themselves in second place in the East with an eye on repeating that brilliant run from last year.
The 4-2-3-1 formation that the Fire will be up against on Saturday is quite familiar to them. As mentioned in past previews, this formation is becoming popular in MLS and Chicago has shown mixed results against it. New England’s iteration of the tactic utilizes a very defense minded anchor in front of the back four. Ideally, Jermaine Jones partners Scott Caldwell in that position but his availability is in question due to a groin injury that kept him out of the U.S. friendlies this week. If Jones can go, his physical style of play and ability to control the midfield will be a prominent feature for New England. Yes, Jones occasionally bursts forward to help out in the attack, but his main threat will be his ability to dominate his own half. If he is unavailable, the Revs have shown that their squad runs deep with Andy Dorman slotting in well in that same midfield role. Either way, controlling possession in the back before swinging it out wide to the speedy wingers has been a tactic that has gained the Revs twenty one points from fifteen matches.
Attack, attack, attack: Fire fans will not be looking forward to the sight of Lee Nguyen, Kelyn Rowe, Teal Bunbury, and Charlie Davies running at a back four that will be missing Jovein Jones. This might be compounded if Juan Agudelo is deemed fit to start after the international break. Four of those five players have notched at least three goals this season, and Charlie Davies has seen a surge in form leading to five goals in ten starts. They understand each other well, make intricate overlapping runs, and have great vision when it comes to passing, often leaving the opposition ball watching on the counter. If you like counter attacking soccer, scroll through the goal highlights from any of New England’s matches this season. Whoever replaces Joevin Jones at the back will need to be especially weary of far post runs from Bunbury whose late arrivals have paid off on multiple occasions this season. If the Fire’s defensive form continues we might see a classic Jeff Larentowicz fit of rage in this one.
Weaknesses: While New England may look great going forward, they remain shaky at the back. Woeful defending has directly led to the six game winless streak that the Revs find themselves on and they reiterate the notion that MLS is a league where defending is optional. Of the nine goals given up in the last four matches, all of them can be attributed to lapses in concentration or a lack of marking. It isn’t brilliant finishes or crazy solo runs that punish the Revs, it is forgetting the basics. Their center backs allow the opposition’s forwards too much time on the ball, they fail to close passing lanes, and show a complete disregard for marking runs into the box. As a whole, the back four has not looked good. All four regular starters are at least 6’ tall and somehow still manage to mark set pieces poorly. The same can be said of the front four who aren’t exactly eager to track back after exhibiting lung busting attacking runs, especially late in matches. It seems like a broken record but the Fire need to take initiative against a team that has given up eighteen goals in fifteen matches.
Nothing to lose: At this point of the season, Chicago needs three points. While reckless abandon may not seem like a positive, in this case it has to be. The Revs will be facing a Fire side that will pull out all the stops to win their first match on the road. Similarly, New England will want to put a poor run behind them with a win. With the stakes being elevated and both teams going blow for blow, mistakes are bound to be made. New England’s shocking defending might be more evident in this situation and Fire supporters will be hoping their team exploits it. If the Fire takes the match seriously, if they fight for 90 minutes, if they avoid bicycle kicks when there are two open players making supporting runs, and if they believe in one another, they will get something from this match. This is the perfect opportunity to rekindle the fire, beating an old rival in their stadium is something that could lead to a spark.
Prediction: Even the most ardent supporters and the most optimistic analysts are starting to lose faith. The situation will get worse before it gets better. With Maloney, Accam, and Jones out for the Fire, there is no seeable catalyst for a win. The Fire’s defensive worries seem to be growing and the only consistent aspect of the squad is that they cannot put together a 90 minute performance. Chicago 1-3 New England. Igboananike earns his DP money with another goal. Take your pick from the Rev’s front four.
For more information on Busch's Save for SEALS program, click here.