Columbus Crew SC take on the New England Revolution on Saturday evening at MAPFRE Stadium, but it’s a different Revs side.
For the first time since 2011, these sides will meet without Jay Heaps on the sideline. Replacing him as the head coach in 2018 is legendary U.S. National Team and Crew SC goalkeeper Brad Friedel.
It’s been a decent start to the Friedel era, beginning the season 3-2-1 and sitting tied with the Black & Gold on 10 points.
To learn more about this new-look New England side, we reached out to our friend Jake Catanese of The Bent Musket. Here is what he had to say about the Revs:
Questions for The Bent Musket
Massive Report: Brad Friedel, great goal keeper, controversial commentator/studio host. What are your early impressions of him as a head coach? How does the fan base feel early in his tenure?
The Bent Musket: I think Brad Friedel certainly has an understanding of the game and what he wants the Revs to be. He’s been deploying a high press that relies on turnovers and counters to generate chances and it’s been successful in the first two months of the season. Obviously the Revs are not perfect, while the defense has improved from a dreadful season last year, there’s still a lot more that unit can do. New England also spends a lot of time defending at times, forgoing any sense of possession to play very direct and I think that sometimes puts too much pressure on the backline, and this isn’t a new problem for the Revs either. Another old problem is that while the Revs are good at the counter, they’re fairly mediocre from possession based build up as evidenced from last week’s 1-0 loss against Dallas.
I think overall the fanbase sees the improvements, but the reaction to the early season start at least for me is mostly reserved. New England is still not at the level of the giants in the Eastern Conference like NYCFC, Toronto or Atlanta, but could you make a good argument the Revs could or should be a playoff team? Sure, I contend the Revs are not bad at soccer but I don’t know how good they are. The three Revs wins involve a walk-off stoppage time winner against the Rapids thanks to Chris Tierney’s left foot and two games against Houston and Montreal where the Revs were up a man for over a half of play. I think the best example in 2018 for the Revs so far was their 2-2 draw against NYCFC last month, where the Revs press worked wonders and pinned City in their own half a lot but the Revs never found the killer goal, letting NYC counter late to grab a late road point with a lineup that didn’t have David Villa or Alexander Ring. That match showed what the Revs can do with the press but also the struggles of a new system and style on both the attacking and defensive sides of the ball.
MR: These two teams are tied on points (although New England has played one fewer game) at 10. What are the thoughts on this team after six matches and what are the expectations going forward.
TBM: Overall, there’s two really good things New England has had to start the year and that’s winger Cristian Penilla and keeper Matt Turner. Penilla has given the Revs a pure winger on the left hand side and he’s had an immediate impact, notching a rocket goal against Houston to seal the game and contributing three assists. Penilla’s presence on the left and Lee Nguyen’s situation (we’ll get to that) opened up the CAM role for Diego Fagundez and those two have hit it off immediately back in preseason and it’s showed on numerous occasions including the Revs opening goal against the Rapids last month where Penilla assisted Diego for the early lead.
Matt Turner has also been a revelation and perhaps the most surprising player not just for the Revs but in the league. Turner was an unsigned rookie from the Fairfield Univ. Stags back in 2016 and served as New England’s third string keeper for the last two years while getting over 20 starts for the Richmond Kickers in the USL over those two seasons. Turner beating out former USYNT standout Cody Cropper and veteran Brad Knighton was surprising, but not as surprising as Turner nabbing several Man of the Match awards for the Revs with his play in the early going. New holding midfielder Wilfried Zahibo has also been a solid addition, like Penilla he has a goal and three assists so far on the year.
The sample size for the Revs so far is very scattered, and with a stretch of three of their next four games at home after this Columbus trip, the Revs have a chance to build on this strong start. By mid-to-late May, we should have a better idea of where the Revs stand in the East and if this team can be a playoff contender and a result (or even better, three points) in Columbus would go a long way for that playoff race even though we’re in April now. Games like this against the other middling East teams are where those final playoff spots will be won, if we assume that NYC, Atlanta and Toronto are mortal locks for the playoffs.
MR: Of course, I have to ask. What’s the latest with Lee Nguyen? Obviously he’s yet to play this year, so how is the team compensating for him not being on the field?
TBM: Well, Diego Fagundez is now playing the CAM role and the system is drastically different than in years past. The Revs have a clear style under Friedel and that is to press and play direct and that style very much suits what Diego Fagundez likes to do. The downside to this is when New England has to play a more traditional build up style that Fagundez and the Revs in general aren’t able to generate the same chances from the run of play or building from the back. With the injury to Kelyn Rowe in the short term, Nguyen would be an obvious candidate to at least come off the bench but he wasn’t named to the gameday eighteen last week and if he’s not named this week I don’t see a situation where the Friedel will play Nguyen this year with the first team.
If that’s the case, then in my opinion the Revs have little choice but to find the best trade offer possible for Nguyen as soon as possible, in my opinion before the transfer window closes on May 1st. It’s doubtful the Revs would have a replacement player until the summer but at least the Revs would have the GAM/TAM assets from the trade to help facilitate a big summer move. With Rowe’s injury and Nguyen’s status, the Revs are fairly thin at the attacking mid spots, with strikers Juan Agudelo and Kristian Nemeth likely having to provide cover on the wings and possibly Zach Herivaux as the backup man in the middle or Agudelo as a withdrawn striker behind Bunbury would work too.
To read Massive Report’s answers to The Bent Muskets questions, click here.