Two seasons ago, Columbus Crew SC and the New England Revolution entered the MLS Cup Playoffs as the two hottest teams in Major League Soccer. The two sides met in the Eastern Conference semifinals and New England eventually made a run to the MLS Cup Final.
Last year both teams were again in the postseason, but it was Crew SC making the run to the championship match.
Fast forward to 2016 and both teams are in trouble. Columbus and New England sit below the playoff line and the hopes to make it to the postseason are dwindling fast.
The Black & Gold are seven points back of D.C. United who occupy the final playoff spot. The Revs are just ahead of Crew SC in the standings, sitting six points behind United.
While these two teams just met a month and a half ago, we wanted to get an update on the struggling Revolution before Saturday night’s match. We spoke with Jake Catanese of The Bent Musket to bring Columbus fans some insight on the opponent.
Questions for The Bent Musket
Massive Report: Two wins in the last nine for the Revs. What is going on up in Boston?
The Bent Musket: It's been a struggle for New England the past few weeks and if you take away their US Open Cup run, their results in MLS are quite dire. In that nine game streak you mentioned the Revs started with a three game losing streak, then had a nice run vs. Columbus, at RSL and vs. Chicago, then promptly lost three more in a row. The most recent streak is the most concerning because at Orlando, at Toronto and vs. Philly were all games that featured teams next to each other at the time in the standings. Now the Revs sit in eighth place in the East ahead of the only two teams they've beaten recently, Columbus and Chicago, a spot they very much deserve after losing three straight "six-pointers" in the East.
As far as what is going wrong, the better question might be what is going right, as we'll address more of the bad later. The Revs are in the USOC Final at FC Dallas on Sept 13th which is a very big deal. We've learned that Je-Vaughn Watson is good at soccer and while it's great that he's stepped up recently the Revs need more performances like his overall. Strikers Juan Agudelo and rookie Femi Hollinger-Janzen are getting back to full fitness, sorely needed depth for the Revs behind Kei Kamara after Charlie Davies was traded to Philadelphia.
MR: It's been three months since the trade between these two sides. Kei Kamara has four goals as a member of New England. Is he not fitting in or is his role different than in Columbus? Why is he not tearing up the scoring charts like he did here a year ago?
TBM: The Revolution's offensive struggles are usually team wide, and this year as a team the Revs are just not finishing. It's not for lack of trying either, this is a team that usually dominates possession stats in the final third but this year in particular they've struggled to get shots on target, even from good opportunities. The other problem for the Revs is that even when the offense is clicking, say Kei Kamara's two goals in Montreal in the first half, the defense let them down badly in a 3-2 loss.
I still think that trading for Kei Kamara has been a good move overall for New England. The Revs have improved tremendously on set pieces which I more or less attribute to Kamara's presence in the box. Some of Kei's best goals have been on the counter attack, something many Revs fans have been calling for them to do more often when this team was on the rise in 2013 and 2014. Kei might not be lighting up the score sheet but in New England, this is a team that usually scores by committee anyway, save for Lee Nguyen's 2014 MVP caliber season. When the Revs have been successful they had multiple players netting 7-8 goals, but right now no one on this team is getting the ball into the back of the net.
MR: This Revolution back line has been atrocious, like worst in the league atrocious. What is going on defensively? Also, how can Crew SC exploit this defensive group?
TBM: In the early part of the season I could point to the fact that the backline changed almost every week due to injuries. But recently the backline has settled as far as personnel, Tierney on the left, Andrew Farrell shifting back to right back and now the only moving piece is Goncalves' partner in the middle. London Woodberry and Watson have done fine in the middle, but like the offensive struggles this is a team issue and when it's been going bad, it's been going really, really, bad. The Revs are too often undone by a lot of simple movement, back shoulder runs, diagonal runs, stuff that in the professional level you shouldn't see multiple times a game.
I don't know if it's a scheme, or a communication issue, or a little bit of everything. We've lamented about the lack of a true centerback aside from Goncalves on this team for two seasons (AJ Soares isn't walking through that door...) and while the Revs did go out and sign keeper Cody Cropper to the surprise of everyone, if it's possible to add a true starting caliber centerback before the roster freeze I think the Revs have to try and do that too. For the Crew, honestly I wouldn't change much about what they do offensively. Higuain is back which means he's scoring at least once on a set piece, but Ola, Finlay and Meram are just as solid in my opinion as the Revs attacking front. I've mentioned I hate the "mirror match" when these two teams play and for good reason, especially now when we could both score zero or four goals today.
We will bring you Massive Report’s responses to The Bent Musket when they are posted.