Each week we do a Q&A with our friends around the SB Nation Soccer world to get some insight on their team from those who know them best. Know your enemy.
New York City FC is riding a hot streak to start the 2018 season, winning their first three and looking for four on Saturday. Extending the streak will mean going through a revamped New England Revolution in the frozen tundra of Foxborough. The Revolution have won one and lost one to start the season.
Most recently, Chris Tierney (with a little help from foes in the wall) snatched victory for the Revs on a free kick in the final moments of their match against the Colorado Rapids last Saturday.
Friend of the blog Jake Catanese of the Bent Musket fills us in on everything Revs ahead of the match. We chat coaching changes, new players, and expectations for 2018.
Q. Personally, I’m sad to see Jay Heaps go (he’s the pride of my very own Longmeadow High) but it seemed like it was time to make a switch. How have things changed under new coach Brad Friedel?
Jake: One of the biggest things the players have talked about is the “professionalism” in the locker room now. Friedel has at least brought in his own style of training, including two a days during the week, and the players have talked about this positively. Friedel has said that competition is a big part of what he wants to do with the roster, and with former undrafted keeper Matt Turner out of Fairfield University getting the first two starts over Cody Cropper and Brad Knighton, Friedel certainly isn’t shy about making interesting lineup choices.
As far as how things have gone on the field... it’s hard to say. Friedel has been working a high press that was a disaster in Philadelphia and led to a first half red card in a 0-2 loss where the Revs finished with nine men. Against a stingy Colorado defense, thanks to Chris Tierney’s buzzer beater, New England got a win. But it was far from convincing as the Revs had to save a penalty in the second half and didn’t generate a ton of chances. If the Revs are going to have success this year, a 2 of 13 shooting performance against Colorado, or anyone really, is usually not going to get it done.
Q. What’s the biggest difference tactically that you’ve picked up on so far? The Revs rolled over several big name players, including Kei Kamara and Xavier Kouassi, and replaced them with some lesser known but talented players. Who is already making an impact for the team just two games into the season?
Jake: Tactically the Revs have mostly stuck with a familiar 4-2-3-1 system, though they’ve been trying to press with it and we can debate whether or not that has been successful. Diego Fagundez has been in the CAM/no. 10 role in the wake of the Lee Nguyen...situation, and he’s been okay. But the Revs need far more from Diego as a playmaker and assist man as the centerpiece of the attack, and Fagundez posted no key passes against Colorado though he did score a goal.
The one new addition who New England already loves is Cristian Penilla, who’s been posted on the left wing for both of the Revs’ first two games and hit it off immediately on the field with Fagundez. It was Penilla’s run that setup Fagundez’s opener against Colorado and the 26 year-old Ecuadorian, who is on loan from Pachuca, is making a great early case for New England to pick up his buy option at the end of the year.
Other newcomers include Wilfried Zahibo, a holding midfielder who has been great on the defensive side of things but has struggled with his passing going forward in the early part of the season. Two games in and spending a chunk of that a man down, it’s hard to say if he’s the holding midfielder the Revs have desperately needed since Jermaine Jones left. Left back Gabriel Somi has had a rough go though none of it has been his fault. Again, the red cards in Philly combined with a concussion against Colorado has limited his opportunities to impress but he certainly looked capable of being a starter in preseason. He was cleared from training this week but it’s unknown if he or Chris Tierney will start against NYC. Luis Caicedo also arrived this week after getting his paperwork sorted, the Colombian midfielder also is a holding midfield type who came up through the Sporting CP system so the Revs aren’t short on options at that position. First round pick Brandon Bye already has a start at right back and from an offensive standpoint at the position he looks really impressive and clearly shows why he was more of a winger type in college.
Q. Is it fair to say that this is going to be a rebuilding year for the Revolution? What are your expectations for the team this season and what outcome would you deem a “success?”
Jake: See, the thing about rebuilds is that it usually implies tearing the whole thing down and starting over, and I don’t think that’s what the Revs are doing. If the Revs had wanted to rebuild, trading Kamara, Nguyen, etc., and getting draft picks, GAM/TAM, etc., would have been the way to go. Instead, the Revs have continued to do what they’ve always done. Which is draft fairly well, sign MLS veterans and find value on the international market with free transfers and loans.
So while I don’t consider this to be a rebuild, the changes Friedel has brought into the locker room as well as the new additions might be enough to get this team back into the playoffs. However, New England is still significantly behind Toronto, Atlanta and even NYC as far as expectations and even talent. Though I continue to say that all NYC games should be forfeit cause your field should never pass inspection, but I digress.
New England is at best in with the second tier of Eastern Conference teams fighting for those 5th/6th seed places. Two games in, Chicago, Orlando and Toronto don’t look good, though we all expect TFC to recover once their CCL run is over. But the Revs are fighting with the Philadelphia’s and Columbus’ for those lower places in the playoff bracket, they finished 7th last year and I don’t think the Revs got worse in the offseason. But I also don’t think they improved enough to compete with the top of the East, and that is tempering expectations for this season. I don’t think a one-and-done appearance in the playoffs is a success, but it would be an improvement on last year so we’ll see how it goes.
Q. Starting XI/Injuries/Prediction?
Jake: Starting XI *4-2-3-1): Matt Turner; Chris Tierney, Claude Dielna, Antonio Delamea, Andrew Farrell; Wilfried Zahibo, Scott Caldwell; Cristian Penilla, Diego Fagundez, Kelyn Rowe; Juan Agudelo
Injuries: OUT - M Issac Angking (illness); QUESTIONABLE: M Zach Herivaux (ankle), D Gabriel Somi (concussion)
Matt Turner gets his third straight start because if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it. I’m going to hold out Somi and start Tierney at left back but more or less this is the starting lineup from the first game of the season. Dielna and Delamea return from red card suspension at centerback, and while Teal Bunbury might start at right mid/wing, I’m want to see Kelyn Rowe get the start just to see how much fun the trio of Penilla-Fagundez-Rowe could be... especially if Rowe is pulling the strings in the middle which seems unlikely at the moment but I can dream.
Revolution 2-1: It won’t be pretty, but a late Revs counter undoes NYC and we’ll make Penilla the hero in this one.
Thanks again to Jake for sitting down with us ahead of the match. Don’t forget to hit us up in the comments section with your thoughts!