Hudson River Blue spoke with Jake Catense, Senior Editor at the Bent Musket, to get the inside scoop on what to expect from New England Revolution when they play New York City FC in the Bronx tomorrow.
Jake Catense: I think the team is back on the upswing after a fairly brutal start to the year. A lot of players were injured, the backline was largely a mess – particularly when Omar Gonzalez had to get involved – and the CONCACAF Champions League loss to Pumas stung really badly with the high hopes the team had coming off the Shield last year.
Overall, the biggest positive that I took from the first half of the year was Bruce Arena and the Revs recognizing they failed to do enough in the winter window and acted. They got Dylan Borrero and Djordje Petrovic in a couple of months ago, got them acclimated to the team over the last few weeks in the Open Cup, and now both look to be established starters.
While Revs fans can gripe about Omar and Jozy Altidore’s contributions on the year, I think Sebastian Lletget is a solid pickup to partner with Gil and Matt Polster in central midfield and should only improve with Borrero as an additional attacking threat. Getting Polster back from injury is incredibly important to this team as he helps take a lot of pressure off the backline and behind Gil might be the most important player on the Revs team sheet. Vrioni, however, has a chance to really hit the ground running coming off a great loan season in Austria where he led the league in scoring. If he is able to contribute right away significantly, that would be a great boost for the Revs who were really hitting their stride fully healthy with Adam Buksa up top.
Who do you expect to see in the Starting XI on Saturday?
JC: In past weeks this would have such a hard question to answer, but Lletget, Brandon Bye and Henry Kessler all rejoined the starting lineup last week, and Matt Polster is back at training so if he’s cleared for action it should be all hands available for New England as they have a clear injury report for what I can only imagine is the first time all year. So, same lineup as last week against Cincy only Polster in for Maciel in the deep midfield in a 4-2-3-1: Petrovic; D Jones, Kessler, Farrell, Bye; Kaptoum, Polster; Borrero, Gil, Lletget; Bou.
The interesting wrinkle here will be what the Revs eventually do with Vrioni and Bou, since they only use one true striker unless Bruce reverts back to the 4-4-2 diamond. Bou can play on the wing as an inside forward type, but I really like the combination and potential partnership of Borrero and Lletget as wide attacking mids but not full wingers.
Both Borrero and Lletget making late runs into the box, and Borrero’s speed on the ball in particular, can open up a lot of options for the strikers and late arriving midfielders. It’s a balance the Revs will have to deal with eventually, but not something that will be an issue in New York City this weekend. Arena did really well last year with his squad rotations and I think we’ll see something similar in the second half of the year as the Revs prepare for a playoff run.
Did you expect this to be a rebuilding year?
JC: Yes and no. Rebuilding isn’t the word I would use, but the Revs were almost playing two different seasons this year.
The first half with Turner and Buksa was a straight run at the CCL and injuries caused that to backfire spectacularly. The second half was all about setting up for an MLS Cup run and replacing the players sold, and it looks like the Revs have done incredibly well in that regard.
Borrero, Petrovic, and now Vrioni are all signings built on the recent success of the Revs on and off the field. New England might not be a sexy destination in MLS, but a brand-new top-notch training facility in Foxboro along with a new culture of developing and selling players could be a boon of opportunity for a lot of players.
It’s an exciting yet potentially frustrating era of New England soccer because success on the field now leads to your best players going elsewhere and having to constantly rebuild or reload a roster is much harder in MLS with the salary cap and international roster spots. But it’s impossible to deny the groundwork for success Bruce Arena has established in just three years on the job and it’s exiting what future seasons can bring.