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Crossing the Touchline: New England Revolution at the Crew

Catching up on the Revs for the second time in a month.

MLS: Minnesota United FC at New England Revolution Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

It’s Columbus Crew SC against the New England Revolution for the second time already in this young 2019 season. It’s also the last time these two teams will face each other this year unless there is a postseason date in their future. So enjoy seeing the Revs now Crew fans.

The first meeting, which took place on March 9, was a 2-0 win for the Black & Gold at Gillette Stadium back in Week 2 of the Major League Soccer season. That game featured two Gyasi Zardes goals. The forward has since added another for Columbus. This game was part of an 0-2-1 start to the year for the Revolution, who finally got their first win last week against Minnesota United.

To find out a little about New England since Crew fans last saw them, we turned again to our friend Jake Catanese from SB Nation’s Revolution site, The Bent Musket.

Questions for The Bent Musket

Massive Report: It hasn’t been long since these two teams met but it seems like things got worse before they got better. If you would, update Crew fans on the last few weeks for the Revs.

The Bent Musket: Oh, sure, let’s bring up that dismal 0-2 loss from a few weeks ago. If we’re being honest, not a whole lot changed. The Revolution struggled to create chances the first four games of the year and it showed. Carles Gil has been solid throughout the year but it’s the supporting cast around him that has been lacking. The Revs haven’t been able to get their strikers significantly involved and the rare chances they do get shots off, they’re never on target. Cristian Penilla got benched last week for reasons still unknown to everyone except Brad Friedel and while Teal Bunbury’s work rate up top remains legendary, at some point New England will need goal/assist production from that position. Juan Fernando Caicedo so far has just three substitute appearances totaling 33 minutes this season, we’ll see if and when he becomes the feature striker.

The one thing I will give New England credit for is there are times when I think the defense, as a unit, actually looks significantly better and that Crew game was one such time. The Revs held Columbus to just six total shots, and only four on target and the Crew’s best scoring chance was the clincher from Zardes in stoppage time when the Revs were pushing very far forward. Now, the Revs’ defense still has a lot of issues tracking runners in the box and getting support from the fullbacks and holding midfielders and these problems usually result in goals. But some of those problems are the Revs own tactics and just simply not following trailing runs. The team is going to have to improve significantly on both ends of the field if they want to mount a comeback run into the playoffs.

MR: Recently Brad Friedel made some comments about style of play that made some rounds. What are the thoughts of New England supporters on the team’s head coach now more than a year in?

TBM: I can only speak for myself, but there’s more to soccer than just trying hard. One win in five, four total points, and -4 goal differential in 2019 is not something to be proud of or defend for any reason. New England seemingly has played without a structured game plan in the attacking third for several months going back into 2018 and the offensive production and results reflect that. The Revs struggle to create chances in possession, and while they might have improved a bit this year, we’re still waiting for the team to consistently do something on the attack other than push the fullbacks high and counter.

I question whether or not Friedel can consistently create and execute a game plan and his ability to adjust said tactics during the game. I find his substitutions too often to be late and the subs and changes lack impact to the game overall. In my opinion, the Revs should be able to play with multiple fluid styles, especially now that they have shored up the left back position with Edgar Castillo. Instead, the Revs can’t seem to fit all of their playmakers like Penilla onto the field at once and find a balance between attack and defense. As far as I am concerned, this is a failure of Friedel’s system and lack of adjustments.

That being said, last week’s 4-4-2 lineup against Minnesota got the Revs back to basics. They played fairly organized on both sides of the ball, made attacking runs into the box to both posts and capitalized on half-chances that have been rare to see the Revs finish. The first was a recycled corner kick where Gil found center back Jalil Anibaba at the back post and then Brandon Bye’s winner was a tight angle finish on a shot/cross from Teal Bunbury at the back post. Both of these areas — second chances, set pieces, back post runs — are areas where the Revs should be looking to convert scrappy goals.

MR: Could you give Crew fans a couple of players they should pay attention to this Saturday and why you think so?

TBM: I am fairly certain at this point that Carles Gil is good at soccer and we can add him to the short list of good Revs international signings. As far as players to watch, most of the players Crew fans should be familiar from years past with but the potential starting lineup is worth keeping an eye on. Anibaba’s effort and enthusiasm might be enough for Friedel to keep him in the lineup at center back. Just watch him celebrate that goal last week and see how he reacts to blocking shot in front of goal — he’s an emotional player and maybe the Revs need a little more of that.

I was surprised to not see Cristian Penilla in the starting lineup, let alone dropped from the eighteen altogether, and if he’s not at least on the bench I will beyond surprised and maybe go borderline catatonic. I think Penilla or Bunbury as the wide midfield players in a flat 4-4-2 with JF Caicedo up top would be something interesting to watch for, as Friedel combines a successful formation from last week with his veterans players.

To read Massive Report’s answers to The Bent Musket’s questions, check out their Know Thy Enemy piece.