What Are They All About? New England Revolution
Either the glass is ¼ full or ¾ empty. The Chicago Fire tied longtime rival Columbus Crew on Thursday evening 2-2 at Toyota Park. The penultimate home match for Chicago was a heated affair on what was otherwise a frigid and windy October night. After conceding an early goal to Columbus, Chicago equalized on a bizarre own goal, took the lead soon after, and in typical fashion allowed a late equalizer in the 80th minute. There was a bitter sweet feeling at the final whistle as the result extinguished the last of Columbus’ playoff hopes but was not exactly what Veljko Paunovic had promised in terms of impressing the faithful. However, there is no time to dwell on the result due to a quick turnaround before their last home match of the season.
Chicago can once again play the role of spoiler when they host New England on Sunday afternoon. The Revolution currently sit in 7th place just three points below Philadelphia and the red line. A win for New England would go a long way in helping their quickly fleeting playoff chances as they will probably need six points from their last two matches and a helping hand from other results to ensure they’re still playing in November. If they Fire were to defeat New England on Sunday then the Revolution would need to beat Montreal on the last day of the season by a margin big enough to make up a 13 goal differential and the Union would need to lose both of their remaining matches.
Jay Heaps and his side should be familiar to our readers with this being the fourth meeting between these two teams this season. New England had two MLS victories over Chicago this summer and then ended the Fire’s dreams of securing a fifth Open Cup in August. The motivation for revenge is certainly there, but whether the tactics, mentality, and talent are there as well is a different matter entirely. Will Chicago salvage some pride for fans that have suffered immensely this season, or will the Fire trudge on towards a third consecutive worst season in franchise history?
New England Form Guide: W-L-W-L-W
Previous match: A 3-1 home win over SKC.
Formation in the last match: 4-4-2: Knighton; Farrel, Woodberry, Barnes, Tierney; Rowe, Caldwell, Nguyen, Fagundez; Agudelo, Kamara
Strengths: Previous overviews of New England have included Kei Kamara’s prolific scoring record against Chicago, Jay Heaps ability to instill a workman like mentality in his squad, dynamic interchange from a variety of personalities in the midfield, speed on the wings, and outside backs with tenacity for putting great service into the box. We invite you to revisit those previews as not much has changed for New England since August.
Form Down the Stretch: We’ve talked about it often but MLS is a league that heavily relies on being able to get results in the last two months of the season. Fixture congestion and a high number of intra-conference matches mean that you can snag a late playoff spot if you manage to stay relatively close to the pack. With twelve points in their last five matches New England has really hit a stride that could just see them push across the line in the next two weeks. Those encounters featured 11 goals from a total of 64 shots, statistics which should worry a Fire side that has leaked 12 goals in that same time span. The whole Revolution squad has pitched in with the goals scoring recently so Chicago will need to be weary of threats from all over the field. Agudelo, Tierney, Nguyen, Fagundez, Kamara, and Rowe shared the burden in the last five fixtures.
The Boost of a Full Squad: New England hasn’t played an MLS match in over two weeks and while that might mean they aren’t as “match sharp” as Chicago it certainly has done them some good in terms of availability. Jose Goncalves and Gershon Koffie are no longer listed on the injury report and Jay Heaps alluded to their inclusion in the 18 for Sunday. Joining those two in their availability are Kelyn Rowe (infection) and Juan Agudelo (national team duty) who also had time to rest and recover during the extended break.
Weaknesses: Once again, we welcome you to revisit some of our other write ups which featured extended analysis of New England’s poor goal keeping, slow center backs, failure to track back and work cohesively as a defensive unit, and their inability to see out games. Let’s briefly examine some glaring weaknesses that could directly impact this match.
Goalkeeping: Bobby Shuttleworth was New England’s first choice keeper for much of the season, perhaps he held the spot for too long. Statistically speaking, at 1.85 GAA Shuttleworth has the highest such average among keeper that have played more than seven games this season. A shocking save percentage of 53.6% is likely what spelled the end for him as he hasn’t always guaranteed a spot in the 18 recently. His replacement, Brad Knighton, has fared slightly better but has managed just two clean sheets since taking over the spot. Late season gelling, a poor defense, and a Fire side bent on creating chances could prove problematic for the Revolution.
Defensive Frailty: Farrell and Tierney haven’t gotten any better at limiting counter opportunities on the flank, inconsistent center back line ups have continued, miscommunication has apparently increased, and the midfielders still think that man marking is only the duty of defenders. New England’s match against Columbus perhaps best highlights these short comings. After numerous early chances Columbus finally worked a nice sequence around the entire width of the field in New England’s final third before Ola Kamara danced around on-looking defenders to beat Knighton at his near post. A post and two close calls occurred before Ola Kamara buried a PK to put the result to bed. Should Accam make his return and should DeLeeuw continue his positioning brilliance then chances will abound for Chicago.
Nerves of Jelly: Amid their impressive league run recently is also New England’s 4-2 loss to FC Dallas in the Open Cup final. New England took a shock lead in the sixth minute before utterly collapsing and allowing Dallas four goals. It was largely a match that was decided by perseverance and belief. Qualities that the Revolution didn’t have when it counted. The same can be said to a lesser extent of the match against Columbus mentioned above. In what was then a pivotal match for both teams and one had the mega story line of Kei Kamara’s return, New England severely underperformed. They were bossed all over the field and Kamara was nowhere to be found in his shining opportunity. The questions looms large, will they slip up again in another definitive match?
Prediction: “This year, the people who come, our crowd, our supporters, they suffered too much and we have to give that last game everything we have to win the game. I think that's very important."