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Crossing the touchline: Three questions for Crew vs. New England Revolution

We go direct to the source to find out about today’s Black & Gold opponent.

MLS: New England Revolution at FC Dallas Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

We are officially into the 2019 Major League Soccer season. Columbus Crew SC opened the new year at MAPFRE Stadium last weekend. It was the start of a new era for the Black & Gold, with new ownership and a new head coach in Caleb Porter. The start of the season didn’t go exactly as expected, as the Crew tied a largely second-string New York Red Bulls side at home, 1-1, despite controlling much of the contest.

On Saturday, Columbus travels to the New England Revolution for the second game of 2019. The Revolution also drew 1-1 on opening day, but did so on the road against FC Dallas. Saturday’s game marks the home opener for New England, meaning it should be a good atmosphere at Gillette Stadium.

To get a sense of what the Revs are about this year, we turned to our friend Jake Catanese of SB Nation’s The Bent Musket. Here is what Jake had to say about New England:

Massive Report: After missing the playoffs for the third consecutive season last year, what are the expectations for New England in 2019? Are fans/people around the team confident this team is ready to get back to postseason play?

The Bent Musket: Confident isn’t a word I would use, however at the beginning of every new season everyone is certainly hopeful that this team can make the playoffs. I think the problem with this Revs team is that simply making the playoffs is their ceiling right now and that’s not really anything to write home about. Seven teams from the East will make the playoffs this year and even if New England finishes in that 5th-7th seed range, they’re likely a one-and-done team on the road anyway.

That’s not to say the team hasn’t improved because on paper it probably has. But these improvements to the roster and DP/TAM acquisitions are just several years late compared to what the rest of the league is doing, so even if the Revs are getting better, they’re still getting passed or treading water in the league overall. The front office is teasing another major signing for this window and that player will have to have significant impact if the expectations or hope of the Revs getting into the second round of playoffs have any chance of coming true.

MR: For the Crew fans in Columbus who haven’t kept close tabs on the Revs’ offseason, what’s new with the team in 2019?

TBM: Not a lot really, but you might’ve seen our new CAM Carles Gil notch the equalizing goal in Dallas last week in the opener. That was a really good sign for a player that is replacing Diego Fagundez in the middle of the attack, and Diego had 9G/10A last year. The other major international signing was striker Juan Fernando Caicedo (not to be confused with CDM Luis Caicedo already on the Revs) but he missed the first game due to injury. We’ll see if JF Caicedo makes his debut against the Crew as he is off the injury report for this week.

Also, the Justin Rennicks saga came to an end as the Revs signed the USYNT striker to a Homegrown contract after his freshman year at Indiana. Rennicks served a suspension from the Revs academy a couple of years ago after flying out to Germany for an unsanctioned training stint which cast a lot of doubt on the organization’s ability to sign the player in recent months. Rennicks is also waiting for his debut but was on the subs bench in Dallas.

MR: How do you expect the Revolution to approach handling the Crew in this game considering it’s the home opener in New England and Columbus is under new management?

TBM: I expect the Revolution to be far more aggressive than they were in Dallas. After getting the equalizer in the second half near the hour mark, the Revs seemed content to see out the game for a draw. Normally this idea backfires because the Revs defense isn’t great at absorbing pressure and while seeing out a point on the road against a Western Conference opponent is fine, doing so at home against a team that you could be battling for one of those mid-table playoff spots is not.

The biggest question for the Revs in 2019 is whether or not they can create chances and score goals from something other than the counter. The press was the only plan Brad Friedel had last year and while it worked early on, it failed miserably as teams caught on in the second half of the year. If New England can become a multi-dimensional threat, between countering, possession, set pieces, etc., they’re going to cause a lot of problems this year. Most fans/pundits will focus in on the defense that hasn’t been great but it also gets put into a lot of bad spots because of the offensive style the team likes to use, in particular the fullbacks being pushed very high up and leaving the center backs exposed when the Revs turn the ball over in their own half. While the attack needs to evolve, and start capitalizing on the chances they create, like a league leading 224 corner kicks attempted last year, those changes and more sustained possession will help take pressure off the backline.

Also, the Revs have to avoid the Federico Higuain special, which is to stop giving up free kicks so close to their own penalty area. The Revs like to foul because they like to press but it gets them into trouble in two ways - it gets the backline out of position a lot and it creates a lot of easy set piece chances for the other team. When you commit nearly 50 fouls more than any other team in the league, you’d better be good at dealing with set pieces and that is not a strength for New England as a team right now.

To see Massive Report’s answers to The Bent Musket’s questions, head over to their Three Questions preview.