It used to be the shaving rivalry (Barbasol vs. Gillette), but Columbus Crew SC went and screwed that up by getting a luxury car jersey sponsor. Then it was the Kamara rivalry, but I’m told that ship has sailed (someone should tell the Crew SC marketing department).
All I know is when Crew SC meet the New England Revolution, the games are usually entertaining and that’s what we’re hoping for Saturday night.
The Black & Gold come into this game on the back of two straight defeats, including losing a second half lead at home to New York City FC a week ago. The players and coaches are hoping the Revs are the medicine needed to get back to climbing the Eastern Conference table instead of falling.
Speaking of the East, New England currently sits in ninth place in the conference with only two wins this season in nine games played. The Revolution are 0-3-2 away from Gillette Stadium and face a Columbus side that has been pretty good at MAPFRE Stadium this year, last week aside.
To learn a little more about what the Kamara-less New England (Kei reportedly didn’t travel due to his wife giving birth), we turned to Jake Catanese of SB Nation’s The Bent Musket for some Revolutionary insight.
Questions for The Bent Musket
Massive Report: I'm not sure we can discuss this game without talking about Kei. He's played 29 games since the fateful trade almost a year ago and has only nine goals. I thought this was a good fit for Kamara at the time, but what about the way New England (or Kei) plays that hasn't worked over the last season or so?
The Bent Musket: In Columbus, the Kamaras — either Kei or Ola it doesn't seem to matter - were the focal point of the Crew attack. A true target #9 type player that could poach goals, score a few headers and just rack up the goals. Kei isn't doing that in New England nor is he really supposed to be, because that's not the way the Revs tend to play. They score by committee and in theory are more of a countering team when they're playing there best.
Last week the Revs (without Kei who did not travel as his wife is expecting a child) scored three goals without Kei on the counter attack before completely forgetting how to play soccer in the last 15 minutes and allowed a 3-3 draw. Kei's partnership with Juan Agudelo has never truly clicked but I'm not sure that's their fault or the Revs just being unable to provide good service to their strikers. The new diamond midfield Jay Heaps has used with two strikers up top has seen several variations including Lee Nguyen as a striker. When Nguyen is up top, he's more likely to move around and give Agudelo the middle of the field and this is where Juan really shines so it's not unfair to say Kei and Juan like to occupy the same space and get in each others way.
Others will debate whether or not Kei is a good fit for the Revs, I still believe, and will likely always believe, that a player of Kei's talent will make a team better regardless of style and formation.
MR: Since that playoff series in 2014, the Revs have really struggled. What's been the biggest issue for New England since that two-legged series when it seemed like these two would be battling in the postseason for years to come?
TBM: A.J. Soares isn't walking through that door. That was really the answer for me, Soares left a gaping hole in the Revs backline for two years that has only truly been addressed this past offseason with internationals Antonio Delamea, Benajmin Angoua and surprise fourth round pick and former USYNT prospect Joshua Smith. Obviously there's the Jermaine Jones saga and the Kei trade in 2015 and 2016 but the biggest problem for the Revs was mostly in defense.
Jose Goncalves was a rock for this team in 2013 and 2014 but he never had a consistent partner the last two seasons. Andrew Farrell tried to shift from right back and did fine but the revolving door at center back still ended with Farrell back at right back and a flurry of new signings to cover the back line. Bobby Shuttleworth's form last year took a turn for the worse as well and he was benched, failing to regain even some of the form he had during that stellar playoff run. The Revs all but blew up the middle of the field and have an all new GK-CB-DM spine that has seen some mixed results despite some impressive individual performances.
If you look back to that team just a few years ago, not much has changed in the attacking half. Agudelo wasn't there of course, but played in 2013 and 2015 to the present, but most of the midfielders like Nguyen, Rowe, Fagundez and Caldwell are still around. The Revs core stayed the same but the rest of the league got significantly better and maybe figured out New England a bit as well over the years. And the Revs hit the post like 50 times last year too, that didn't help.
MR: The counter attack has been a weak point for Columbus since Gregg Berhalter took over. In watching the Revolution this year, it appears the team can hurt teams on the counter. Do you see that being the game plan at MAPFRE Stadium and how do you think it will work out?
TBM: I mean, it worked for 75 minutes in Seattle so I have no reason to think the Revs won't do the same thing today. The difference should be the Revs should never, ever, under any circumstance, STOP attacking or counter attacking in game. Period. This is team that cannot hold a lead or relieve pressure by stalling out a game as we saw in Seattle and against FC Dallas earlier this year. They will counter all night, they should counter all night and if Columbus isn't good at defending those than that could be a really long night for them.
Keep an eye on Diego Fagundez as well, he might only have three assists on the year but he might be having his best season as a pro and he scored 13 goals in MLS as a teenager. I was skeptical that Fagundez could be a "shuttling" midfielder in the diamond formation but he's been exemplary all year but just doesn't have the stats to back it up. On the counter, you will see Fagundez on the ball moving forward and you should be terrified to see this. You should be terrified no matter who is dribbling up the field to be honest, but Diego especially. He might not get the primary assist but often times it's his play in the build up, either in the middle third or the final third, that sparks New England's counter.
Lee Nguyen is the guy in the playmaking role normally but if he's lined up as a striker, expect to see Fagundez in that #10 role behind Nguyen and Agudelo.
Big thanks to Jake and the rest of the staff at The Bent Musket. To see Massive Report’s answers to their questions, checkout their Know Thy Enemy piece.