Each week we do a Q&A with our friends around the SBNation soccer world to get thoughts on their team from those who know them best. Know your enemy!
NYC FC welcomes Lee Nguyen and New England Revolution this Saturday in an Eastern Conference battle against two teams with Postseason aspirations.
The Revs have not started the 2016 season the way they hoped. Two points out of three has the team in eighth place in the Eastern Conference, and most recently the team was thrashed by the Union in Chester by a score of 3-0. Defense has been the issue so far in New England, as the club looks to regain the continuity they had at the back last season.
This week, the Bent Musket's Jake Catanese joins us to answer three Revolution questions. Jake covers the club's defense, Jermaine Jones's departure, and the growth of their attack.
Q) The season has not started out as planned for the Revs, taking two points from the team's first three matches. What jumps out immediately is that New England has conceded six goal through three games in addition to conceding two penalties that were not be converted. I find this all somewhat strange given that the back line is intact from last season and the team was average defensively in 2015. What do you think so far through three games has been the issue for the defense? Is it a personnel issue, or is it something tactical? Do you see this as a problem which might persist, or one that can be chalked up to a small sample size?
A: I think it's a bit of both, it's a small sample size but enough of one where it needs to be addressed. Against both Houston and Philly when they conceded three goals there were blatant errors and miscommunications that should be easy enough to fix independently, but if there is a tactical problem Jay Heaps has to fix it quick.
The Revs seem to be at their best when they absorb pressure, create turnovers and hit back on the counter. This year, the offense is too stagnant in their build-up play and the team isn't moving the ball upfield efficiently at times and that's putting the defense in some bad spots when the Revs lose possession. The personnel shouldn't be an issue, as Tierney, Goncalves and Farrell are established starters but the team will have to adjust for two weeks without Je-Vaughn Watson at right back as he will have international duty and a red card suspension to serve. Rookie first round pick Jordan McCrary, veteran Darrius Barnes and London Woodberry, whose crossing last year gave the team a boost early on, are all candidates to make the starting lineup in the coming weeks.
Q) Jermaine Jones was the face of the team during his time with New England and his departure for Colorado left a void in the midfield. I read your piece on his contract negotiations and you discuss his value to the club as both an American World Cup hero and also a midfielder that works harder than anyone on the field. What has been the lasting impression with his departure from the club, and does the fan base lament not trying harder to bring him back? From what I gather, the move to replace Jones was bringing in Gershon Koffie. What does Koffie bring to the team and how does he differ from Jones? Does he fill the role of Jones, or is that being filled by a different player or tactical switch?
A: Jermaine Jones is the biggest "free-agent" signing in the history of the Revolution but sadly he will not go down as one of the clubs all-time greats. His presence and form coming off the World Cup in the summer of 2014 put the Revs back into the MLS Cup Final and while that stretch will always be remembered, the way Jones left will leave a bitter taste for many. It wasn't just what Jones did on the field for the Revs, when he wasn't battling injuries, but a short-term significant investment for a club that has never gone after major Designated Players before. Jones broke the stigma that the Revs weren't willing to spend money and also reinforced it when he left as his offseason saga dragged on.
Gershon Koffie is actually the second player the Revs signed to replace Jones, the first being DP Xavier Kouassi who was signed to a pre-contract from Swiss club FC Sion. Sadly, Kouassi tore his ACL while with Sion, putting his 2016 MLS season in doubt unless he's declared fit right around the playoffs. Koffie has been a solid replacement though, bringing the hard-nosed, physical play to the Revs midfield along side Scott Caldwell and I'm pretty sure he's gotten two cautions already this season. When the Revs settle in to the season, Koffie should have a big impact as he learns to play off Caldwell and help the Revs transition upfield on offense.
Q) Offensively, the club relies on playmaker Lee Nguyen to create chances for the forwards and wingers. Nguyen was productive last year in the role, netting 10 assists and creating 48 chances. He has undoubtedly been productive, but has at his disposal a unbalanced cast of forwards and wingers who have all of the ability but sometimes are found to be lacking on the field. Charlie Davies, who led the team in goals last season, has played alongside Teal Bunbury, but so has Diego Fagundez. Juan Agudelo was expected to grow into a larger role but he continues to come off the bench. Which forward/attacking player has most impressed you so far this season? Which player has the most to lose in the 2016 season? Who ultimately emerges as the Rev's goalscorer?
A: Charlie Davies is probably the best lone striker on the Revs, and you could tell when he missed last week's game against the Union. Davies should probably lead the team in scoring again but only because he'll get a few more "mop up" opportunities than everyone else. It's really scoring by committee for the Revs though I wouldn't say no to Nguyen returning to 2014 scoring form. Bunbury had settled into a "target winger" role and his contributions on defense were stellar at times last year and moving back up top doesn't seem like a great long term solution for the team. I would say that Bunbury has been the most disappointing as the club's lone striker's. I think is not a slight against Teal, but Heaps for starting him there and maybe against Agudelo who can't break into the lineup.
The real wildcard is Diego Fagundez, who was benched back in 2014 for basically not playing defense. Fagundez has solved that issue and is finding the scoresheet again. This is bad news for not only MLS, but for other starting caliber players on the Revs and Diego's had by far the best game for the Revs this year with a goal and two assists in Houston. Agudelo is sadly just anchored on the bench. He can play up front or out wide but in the Revs system there are just better guys who fit at the moment. Kelyn Rowe likewise can play anywhere in the attacking midfield and started the first game next to Koffie at CDM. Rowe is likely to be the starter in place of Nguyen at the playmaking CAM role but don't be surprised to see him switch off with Fagundez or see Agudelo play as a withdrawn striker either.
So, what lineup and formation should we expect Saturday?
I'm giving the rookie the nod at right back because in Yankee Stadium I think his speed on a narrow pitch can help lock down his flank. As far as the attacking four, I want to cause as many problems for NYCFC as I can, and this group can switch around and make crossing runs while at the same time still maintain a good defensive shape if Agudelo is caught out wide or something. Plus it might be fun, and you don't want the Revs having fun.
And how about a Prediction?
I have seen the Revs win and lose at Yankee Stadium in person, but I will not be in attendance this weekend. I'm cheating on the Revs to watch the UConn Women's basketball team in Bridgeport, CT for the NCAA Tournament, so in my absence I selfishly predict a boring 0-0 draw so I can say I didn't miss anything.