What Are they All About? New England Revolution
Reality check. This past weekend the Chicago Fire lost away to Sporting Kansas city on the back of another strange display. Brandon Vincent’s injury woes meant that Patrick Doody got his first start of the season at left back and his performance received mixed reviews. Additionally, David Accam’s continued rift with Veljko Paunovic and Nelson Rodriguez over his potential contract renewal placed the Ghanaian on the bench for another match. Paunovic’s revised line-up featured Schweinsteiger, Juninho, and McCarty all together in midfield, a combination that has yet to pay dividends this season. Accam came on as a second half substitute and scored another goal in that role but it was not enough to salvage the match.
While two consecutive losses is not the end of the world by any means, the fact that Chicago cannot hold their own against their nearest competitors is indeed worrisome. There is much for them to figure out on and off the field amidst a week that is already burdened by hosting the MLS All Star Game. Whether having four players feature in that marquee event is worth the media footprint is something only time will tell as the Fire are set to host the New England Revolution this Saturday at Toyota Park (7:30 CT on CSN Chicago Plus).
This will be the third meeting between the two sides this season after Chicago defeated the Revs at Toyota Park in April and then took all three points again at Gillette Stadium in June. Neither of those displays did anything to convince viewers that New England is deserving of more than their current eighth place position. Jay Heaps and his charges have really struggled this season, especially away from Foxborough. They will certainly see Saturday’s encounter as an opportunity to catch Chicago amidst a strange week and return home with a result but they may not have what it takes. Will the Fire continue their blistering home form to remain within touching distance of Toronto, or will the Revs take advantage of Chicago’s bubbling inner turmoil? Let’s see what’s in store for the Men in Red.
New England Home Form (last five league matches): W-W-L-L-L
Previous Result: A 3-0 home win over Philadelphia.
Formation: 4-4-2 (diamond); Cropper; Farrell, Angoua, Delamea, Rowe; Koffie, Caldwell, Fagundez, Nguyen; Kamara, Bunbury
Strengths: Readers should be quite familiar with this weekend’s opponent so we’ll try to keep this brief. Earlier this season we cited Kei Kamara, Xavier Koussai, chance creation, dynamism in midfield, and the strange turf at Gillette as strengths. The Revs like to make us work because none of those are applicable in this match. Let’s take a look at where they might trouble the Fire in this iteration.
Fine Form: In terms of timing, the Revs have as good a chance as any to finally perform well on the road. Aside from Chicago’s aforementioned woes, New England has won their last two encounters and arguably deserved more from the match against New York two weeks ago. Kei Kamara has notched three goals in his last two matches and Teal Bunbury has three in his last three as well. It is quickly becoming crunch time around the league and if the Revs have any chance of making the playoffs their turnaround will need to continue this weekend. The players have apparently gotten the memo after playing with a higher intensity in the last three matches, peppering the opposition goals with forty-eight shots in their previous three encounters after struggling to do so prior to the Gold Cup break.
It Works for the Patriots: In the past Jay Heaps and this Revs side have been known for their ability to dominate the midfield. The miraculous run to the MLS CUp final in 2014 came on the back of Jermaine Jones and Scott Caldwell brutalizing the midfield before dishing it off to Lee Nguyen who would make onlookers blink to make sure New England hadn’t signed Messi. Nguyen is still there to pull the strings and leads the team in assists and in goals (eight and nine respectively). The addition of Kamara and Heaps’ decision to utilize Bunbury underneath him has given Nguyen two tall targets to aim at as he orchestrates the Rev’s attacks. In a style somewhat reminiscent of the Kraft’s other franchise, long balls over the top or onto the feet of the two strikers are largely responsible for their most recent tallies. All three of the goals against Philly came from long balls onto Kamara or Agudelo (Nguyen was credited with two assists) and there were a few other near misses. Two of the four goals against LA came in similar fashion and the strategy against New York was one of long ball from the get go.
This approach should worry Chicago given that their back line is struggling with consistency given Vincent’s absence and Kappelhof’s inclusion in the All Star team, not to mention they do not have the height necessary to compete withe Kamara and Bunbury.
Weaknesses: This list has been bountiful in our previous two examinations of this Revs side and they haven’t disappointed us with choices this time either. Cropper’s inexperience, team chemistry, injuries to key players, formation and tactical tweaks that have confused more than they have created, and just plain bad luck have all surfaced this season. We’ll keep this brief but let’s see where else they will struggle on Saturday.
Take Me Back to the Chowder: Perhaps the biggest stumbling block for the Revs in this encounter will be their inability to play well on the road. They are the only team in the Eastern Conference that has yet to win a match on the road, and just one of three teams to hold such a record in the league (Colorado and Minnesota join them). New England has mustered just three points from their travels, earning draws at Portland, Seattle, and NYCFC, and getting anything from their trip to Chicago will seem like a bonus. For whatever reason, The Revs cannot seem to implement their style on the road, often playing at a much slower tempo on their travels. The Fire may have caught a break with their opponents in this busy week.
Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems: It seems like everywhere Kei Kamara goes he is followed by trouble. A few prolific seasons with Sporting KC earned him a dream loan move to Norwich in the EPL. Failed stints there and at Middlesbrough resulted in him returning stateside with the Columbus Crew. A twenty-two goal season on the way to the MLS Cup Final in 2015 saw the man from Sierra Leone hold out for a DP contract and a salary of over $1 million before causing one of the most famous locker room rifts in the league’s history in 2016. The bust up with Higuain got him transferred to New England where he has yet to truly impress.
Seven goals in twenty-one matches last season and seven from nineteen in this season is hardly anything to write home about when a player is earning the type of money the Kamara is. When you add in his eccentric personality, his tendency to attract fines and suspensions, and his inability to share the limelight, you have a recipe for disaster. There are rumors that the Revs are actively shopping Kamara with DC United leading the pack for his signature and Sporting KC interested in his services should their move for Krisztian Nemeth fall through. If he were to move it would be Kamara’s tenth team in the last twelve seasons. Either way, the drama cannot be helping a locker room that needs unity at the moment.
Prediction: Chicago’s recent troubles will not impact them on Saturday. This New England side has a lot to figure out over the next two transfer windows and we’re not sure if Jay Heaps is the right man to be making those decisions. New England’s woeful form continues. Chicago 3-0 New England. Nemanja Nikolic, David Accam, and Michael DeLeeuw score for the Fire.