What Are They All About? New England Revolution
A chance for momentum. This past Wednesday the Chicago Fire defeated the Columbus Crew in the US Open Cup. Although the match ultimately needed eleven rounds of penalties to be decided, goalkeeper Richard Sanchez came through with a well taken spot kick and a save against his counterpart, Logan Ketterer. Both lineups consisted heavily of reserve players and both coaches opted to utilize players out of position rather than risk consistent starters. The match wasn’t pretty by any stretch of the imagination, but the Fire won’t care as they progressed to the next round of a competition that has become a staple goal of theirs in recent years. Additionally, Chicago has now won two consecutive matches for the first time this season and they will be looking to continue that streak against the New England Revolution this Saturday (7:30 CT at Toyota Park).
New England enters the match amidst a three-match unbeaten streak in the league which includes a victory over the high flying Red Bulls but Brad Friedel and his charges were ousted from the Open Cup by lower league opposition on Tuesday. Although they started a line up that was itself reminiscent of a USL side, Friedel made it abundantly clear that the performance was not befitting of professional players. He lambasted their work rate saying that they couldn’t match the effort exhibited by Louisville and called out his players for thinking that having an MLS patch on their jersey should have guaranteed a victory.
With the two sides entering the match on different trajectories, this fixture should be an interesting one to watch. Will New England’s form take a dip after a strange Cup outing or will Chicago return to form after two lucky wins? Let’s see what’s in store for the Men in Red.
New England Form Guide (All Competitions): L-W-D-D-L
Previous Result: A 3-2 US Open Cup loss to Louisville City.
Formation: 4-2-3-1; Turner; Farrell, Delamea, Anibaba, Dielna; Caicedo, Rowe; Nemeth, Fagundez, Penilla; Bunbury
Strengths: The Revolution currently find themselves in fifth place of the Eastern Conference with a four-point cushion on the nearest non-playoff positioned team. They are also just four points outside of third place and a road victory against Chicago would go a long way in signaling their intent for the season. Let’s see where they might succeed on Saturday.
Our Apologies Mr. Friedel: When Brad Friedel took the coaching job in New England, we were among the majority of people who thought it was a head scratching move. No major coaching experience, no connection to MLS outside of one season spent with the Crew in ’96, and very little financial backing from the Kraft family signaled to us that this venture was inevitably going to end in failure. Well, we have to admit that we were wrong.
A 6-4-4 record in a tough Eastern Conference is certainly the opposite of failure. Draws against NYCFC and Atlanta, coupled with victories over the Red Bulls and Sporting Kansas City are especially impressive given the circumstances. Friedel has his side well organized, working hard, and playing to the best of their abilities. He has restored confidence in the likes of Teal Bunbury, Diego Fagundez, and Krisztian Nemeth, players who for various reasons struggled under Jay Heaps. Additionally, he has taken a backline that conceded sixty-one goals last season—they had their blushes somewhat saved by a horrendous seventy goals against tally accrued by Minnesota—and moved it into the top half of the “goals against” category in the league. When you realize that it is roughly the same back four, with the exception of Jalil Anibaba, his ability to get the best out of players truly shines through. Again, we must tip our hat to the Ohioan from England.
Multi-Faceted Attack: Another impressive aspect of this Friedel coached side has been their ability to attack from multiple avenues. Although their leading scorer is Teal Bunbury (eight goals, including five game winners), they have eleven players who have tallied assists this season. Bunbury’s aerial ability, clinical finishing, and pure strength will be worrisome for a Fire side that has struggled against those attributes throughout the season. Even if they are able to shut him down, the midfield trio of Fagundez, Nemeth, and Penilla, has been equally as deadly. Combining for nine goals and nine assists, a unique blend of speed and making perfectly timed runs (Penilla), exquisite passing and a knack for goal (Fagundez), and European schooled technical ability (Nemeth) highlights what they bring to the table.
Additionally, Wilfried Zahibo is having an exceptional maiden voyage in MLS. A box-to-box midfielder, Zahibo has taken a position that New England has struggled with over the last three season and made it his own. Three goals and four assists, mostly from late supporting runs, may statistically reveal his prowess, but he exudes a calm and confidence in the center of the park that is beyond statistical analysis. Chicago will certainly need Bastian Schweinsteiger and Dax McCarty to be at their best in this one.
Weaknesses: While New England’s current form is praise worthy, there are some worrying aspects about this Revs side. They haven’t won anything yet and no one earns their playoff spot in June. Let’s see where they might struggle.
I Don’t Feel Like It Today, Coach: For as much praise as we offered Friedel and the Revolution above, there have been some mind boggling moments of inconsistency for this New England side. The aforementioned tirade against the second stringers in the Open Cup is a good example, but there have also been matches where some of the veterans have inexplicably not shown up. The 4-2 loss against lowly Montreal was bizarre in terms of energy and tempo, the home loss to Columbus came on the back of Friedel changing formation to a 3-5-2 despite a good streak with their 4-2-3-1, and the Revs gave up three leads against Vancouver two weeks ago. While MLS is a league where teams experience ups and downs, consistency is key to success and there are indications that New England could struggle in that department.
We Are After All an MLS Team: Week in and week out we see this same weakness in virtually all MLS sides: no one can defend in transition. While Friedel has significantly improved the backline, the league’s focus on attacking play (indicated by their subsidies and encouragement of attack minded players and instances of turning down TAM and DP level defenders) shines through in the wingback positions especially. Farrell’s commitment to going forward and Dielna’s repurposing as an outside back has seen the Revolution give up their last five goals as their opponents counter. It is certainly fun to watch goals, but the way in which teams have a complete disregard for defending on the wings has to be infuriating for the more defensive minded onlookers. If Katai and Solignac can continue their typical wing play, the match will certainly be there to be won.
Prediction: The Fire as an organization simply cannot afford to fail on the field when they are doing so much to fail off of it. Forcibly emptying stands and alienating the fan base cannot be coupled with another home loss. Chicago 3-1 New England. Nikolic, Gordon, and an Anibaba own goal for the hosts, Nemeth for the visitors.