For the second time in 2018, the New England Revolution and Columbus Crew SC square off in Major League Soccer play. The first match at MAPFRE Stadium saw Crew SC take a lead twice, but gave up a goal shortly after each time. The game ended in a 2-2 draw, ending the Black & Gold’s three-match losing streak.
With another matchup with the Revs upcoming Saturday night, we went to our New England expert Jake of SB Nation’s The Bent Musket.
Questions for The Bent Musket
Massive Report: It’s been a few weeks since the Revs and Crew SC last met. First, how did you guys feel coming out of that 2-2 draw in Columbus? Second, for those that don’t follow too closely, how have things gone for New England since that match?
The Bent Musket: Well, it’s hard to feel bad about a road point, especially one in Columbus where the Crew have been in stellar form so far in 2018. Looking back at that game, I’m still stunned that there wasn’t a goal in the second half and everyone knows both teams tried and a 4-4 or 5-5 scoreline wouldn’t have been wrong.
That Crew match is a strange microcosm of the Revs season so far in a few ways. First, the high press and counter attack has been really effective for New England. In years past, the Revs under Jay Heaps used to set up camp in their opponents third and try to generate chances. This had streaky success because breaking down a packed in opponent isn’t easy but I always wanted the Revs to incorporate more of a counter attack into their usual routine and now under Friedel they have. But the pendulum perhaps has swung too much...
The Revs now struggle far more to generate chances on anything that isn’t the quick counter. They play so direct that sometimes after causing a turnover they give it right back to the other team and the defense sometimes has to defend for really long stretches and they can get out of shape. They have looked better in recent games save for a disaster in Montreal where the Revs couldn’t hold onto the ball in midfield at all and saw the Impact counter them a few times. This appears to be who the Revs are, it’s high-risk and high-reward setup and right now it’s paying off. I think in the long term the Revs will need some balance on both ends of the field but I think right now as long as Brad Friedel’s style is getting results the fanbase will be happy.
MR: I think it’s safe to say that the Revolution are surprising people in 2018. What’s been the key to the solid start to the season?
TBM: There have been a lot of new additions that have very quickly gotten acclimated to the New England Revolution lineup and Cristain Penilla is could end up being a Newcomer of the Year darkhorse. Four goals and four assists through ten games, all of them starts, it really seems like Penilla was a perfect addition to Friedel’s pressing scheme because of what he does in the offensive half. He drives at the defense on the ball and can create for himself or others from the wing and it opens up a lot of opportunities for Diego Fagundez and Teal Bunbury.
Wilfried Zahibo has been another solid signing at the holding midfielder spot and even if you take away the two late goals in Montreal, it’s the four assists that are perhaps telling. The Revs direct style leads to a lot of passing through the midfield and right up top to the strikers or wingers and Zahibo has the vision from further back to take advantage on those opportunities and pounce on loose balls in the attacking half to immediately start counters. When it works, the Revs system can look maddeningly easy and these two are big reasons why.
I also need to give a shout out to Teal Bunbury here, because his engine up top is another reason why the Revs press is so damn successful. Yes, Teal is finishing goals pretty well this year but for someone who was practically playing a box-to-box right midfield role the past few years, for Teal to jump back up top to lone striker and produce like this is pretty amazing. Also, Matt Turner has started just ten games and even by Revs standards his meteoric rise to culthero status has been just another unexpected surprise in the Friedel era.
MR: It’s still relatively early in the MLS campaign but based on what you’ve seen thus far from the Revs, how do you project New England to finish the year? Is this a playoff squad?
TBM: I think the Revs have done enough to separate themselves in the Eastern Conference so far, despite a lot of home games and a fairly easy schedule, being six points clear of the red line is a big deal even in May. However, the Revs schedule is going to get significantly tougher and there’s a few big home games coming up, counting Columbus there’s also a double week where Atlanta and RBNY come up to Gillette towards the end of the month.
The question is not are the Revs a playoff team, because that distinction goes to half the league and doesn’t mean a whole lot if you’re one and done in the first round. I don’t think the Revs are on the same level as Atlanta or NYCFC or even Toronto if they get their act together later in the year. What plagued New England in years past was consistency, if you played them on a good day it was going to be a nightmare for whichever team it was and no one likes Gillette cause it’s weird. If New England can answer some of those concerns, get results on the road, I think they’re a team no one wants to deal with in a aggregate series in November. But they have to get there first, and I think the Revs can be a playoff team and a dangerous one at that, but I am still far from convinced it is an automatic thing.
To read Massive Report’s answers to The Bent Musket’s question, click here.