What Are They All About? New England Revolution
This past weekend the Chicago Fire ended a month-long hiatus from formal competition with a 4-0 victory over Orlando City, their first league win in ten matches. The rout came against one of the league’s worst teams and Chicago are still twelve points out of a playoff position with just six matches remaining, but there seemed to be a marked improvement in the team’s attitude and performance. Nemanja Nikolic’s thirteenth and fourteenth goals of the season, Aleksandar Katai’s resurgence, and Michael DeLeeuw’s return to the score sheet after long term injury were just some of the highlights. With contract extensions, team options, and starting roster spots all on the line for next season, the Fire’s march towards the end of the fixture list continues this Saturday against the New England Revolution (6:30 CT on ESPN+).
New England enter the encounter on an unbeaten streak of three matches after an abysmal run of nine winless games saw them fall off of the playoff pace. Although they are still within touching distance of the red line, a loss against Chicago could very well doom them to share the Fire’s post-season fate. However, as Brad Friedel alluded to in his midweek press conference, the Revs are a team that fights and they are very much still in the race given results going on around them. All of that indicates that there is very little margin for error when it comes to Saturday’s match. Will Chicago play the role of spoiler against an opponent that has historically done the reverse to them, or will Friedel prove doubters wrong by making the playoffs on his first attempt? Let’s see what’s in store for the Men in Red.
New England Form Guide (All Competitions): D-W-D-L-L
Previous Result: A 1-1 away draw against LAFC.
Formation: 4-2-3-1; Knighton; Bye, Anibaba, Delamea, Farrell; Caldwell, Caicedo; Penilla, Fagundez, Rowe, Wright
Strengths: This is the second meeting between these two sides after they drew 1-1 at Toyota Park in June courtesy of tallies from Bastian Schweinsteiger and Teal Bunbury. In our previous article we apologized for our underestimation of Brad Friedel, focused on their multifaceted attack, and highlighted the positive impact of Zahibo. This time around we’ll look elsewhere.
You Can Have the Ball: The way in which the current Chicago roster is structured relies heavily on their ability to retain the ball. The likes of DeLeeuw, Katai, Nikolic, and McCarty all thrive on build up play and linking up through concerted passes. This style suits the Revs just fine, and in fact, they’d prefer it if all of their opponents played this way. Their last two wins and eight of their last ten points have come in matches where they have had markedly less possession, a statistic bolstered by Friedel’s preferred style of play.
Intense pressure leading to turnovers and quick transition play is the name of the game for the Revs and conceding possession allows them not only to rest and recover from the moments in which their front four choose to be explosive, it also lulls the opposition into a false sense of security whilst a highly organized back six limit moments of true danger. Chicago will need to be more deliberate with their time on the ball and Nico Hassler and Brandon Vincent will need to be more selective in their forays forward on Saturday.
Ya Tenemos un Enganche: Just prior to the roster freeze deadline, the Revolution were able to add Argentine free agent Guillermo Hauche to their ranks. Although the Lanus academy product’s visa has not yet cleared, New England is hopeful that the paper work will come through in time for him to make an appearance on Saturday. Hauche has been training with the team since a trial earlier this summer and could be the missing piece that the Revs have been looking for in their attack. A traditional number ten by trade, he could fill the role that Fagundez has been forced into recently. Hauche can play on either wing and even spent time as a second striker for Union Espanola in Chile, his most recent professional club prior to New England. His versatility will certainly be appreciated and an extra body competing for a starting spot can only be a plus for a side that has scored just three times in their last five matches.
Weaknesses: Last time out we highlighted an inability to defend on the counter and inconsistent form throughout the season for this Revs side and while those remain, let’s see where else they might falter on Saturday.
Zonal Marking: In all three of New England’s most recent matches they have struggled with set pieces. Specifically, Friedel has opted to organize his side in a zonal marking system for corners and free kicks, a system which rarely breeds results. Against LAFC a hard-fought point was almost squandered in the ninety-third minute when Danilo Silva’s header skewed just wide off of a precise delivery from Vela. Against NYCFC, there were three separate occasions in which the hosts nearly scored from corners and a free kick from which a free Callens narrowly missed his header as well. Lastly, the equalizing goal for the Timbers came from a corner as well, with a completely unmarked Dairon Asprilla heading into the ground before Lawrence Olum bobbled it over the line. If Chicago can replicate some of their expert deliveries from earlier in the season, then they could very well leave New England with a point or three.
Slow it Down: As the Revs prepare for Saturday’s fixture, there is a certain mentality that is evident among all of the team members. Friedel, Anibaba, and Caldwell all discussed the need to keep up a high tempo, get on the front foot, and pressure Chicago by closing the ball down quickly to cause the turn overs on which their counterattacks thrive. If the Fire can notch an early goal or keep the tempo slow through concentrated lateral possession and smart tactical fouls to prevent the counter, New England’s frustration and desperation will grow. The longer it remains scoreless or the quicker Chicago can snag the lead, the easier it will be for them to get something from this match. The tight organization that was evident against Orlando and a uniform press starting with the forwards will be key in this one.
Recent Memory: The Fire are unbeaten in this fixture in their last five attempts and you have to go back to October of 2016 (the worst year in Chicago’s history) to find the last time that New England emerged victorious. While that isn’t an historic run, such statistics tend to matter in MLS. Don’t ask us why, we don’t make the rules.
Prediction: A team bonding trip to Munich may have plastered over some of the cracks but the overall state of the club has not changed. The Fire are good enough to beat an Orlando side down on their luck but a Revolution side vying for the playoffs is another beast entirely. Chicago 2-2 New England. Nikolic and DeLeeuw for the visitors, Hauche and Anibaba for the hosts.