You can be as vague or specific about this question as you like, but what’s the deal with the 2017 New England Revolution?
Jake Catanese: Pretty much the same thing that has been wrong with the Revs for the past few years. They can't score and they're still fixing holes on the back line.
Now, as always, the Revolution don't have any issues creating chances. In fact, they're really good at that. But they can't score consistently. They have a lot of players who can score with several players (Kei Kamara, Lee Nguyen, Juan Agudelo — eight goals each) closing in on double-digit goals for the season. Teal Bunbury was on fire there for a while and now has five goals on the year, most of them coming in the last month or so.
Despite these individual successes, a lot of these goals came in big blowouts and the offense as a whole has been inconsistent. Diego Fagundez might be having his most complete season as a pro despite the meager four goals and seven assists on the year. Kelyn Rowe has seven assists and a USMNT debut but zero goals in MLS this year and is pretty much done for the year with injury. It's not that the offense is bad or without talent, it just lacks consistency.
Defensively, New England has finally gotten around to replacing center back AJ Soares, who left in 2014. Slovenian international Antonio Delamea has been solid all year but the back line around him has been mostly unsettled. Andrew Farrell is still the established right back and is solid defensively while making a few improvements on the offensive end with his crossing, but largely has plateaued in his development. Center back Benjamin Angoua is on loan from France and has had a lot of curious individual errors as well as failing to control his emotions on more than one occasion. Summer addition Claude Dielna has looked the part in his first two games but now the Revs seem to be short a left back.
Veteran Chris Tierney has been dropped as a starter and now the Revs are rotating in just about everyone to fill the spot. Farrell has moved over to the left side, Angoua has played out wide, London Woodberry has seen some action, but it's still an unsettled unit that far too often is giving Cody Cropper problems to solve in goal. And while Cropper is pretty good, he can't bail out the Revs every time.
So what's the deal with the Revs? Pretty much the same thing that's been going on the past few years, and if 2017 is more or less over, than the team should be taking steps to prepare for 2018
It seems like there’s a lot of quality in the New England squad when you look at the international and international-adjacent players on the team. What is the biggest reason the Revs have fallen off so much from their MLS Cup final season?
JC: I was browsing the Analytics Evolved website earlier in the week, expected goals are a fascinating thing and I highly recommend reading and browsing articles about "xG."
Remember how I said the Revs don't have a problem creating chances, just finishing them? Well, expected goals more or less proves what my eyes are seeing. The Revs should be scoring more goals based on the chances they're creating and for some reason they aren't. Andre Blake and Bill Hamid save everything against New England, but the Revs don't play Philly and DCU every week, so there isn't really anything specific to point to. The Revs just simply don't score goals and lose a lot of close games to have a season goal differential of just -2 for a nearly last place team.
The longer answer, the Revs are just far too complacent with their roster. There hasn't been a lot of turnover from the core team that made the 2014 MLS Cup final. Now, in theory, that's not a bad thing because that's a pretty damn good core of players. Yes, there are new center backs, yes Juan Agudelo returned from Europe and wasn't on that 2014 team and yes the team acquired Kei Kamara and dealt Jermaine Jones. But a lot of the roster holes that existed in previous seasons are still being addressed years down the road. Center back has been a problem and while there are options there now it's too late to save this season and left back is an issue that was not addressed in the summer window. Xavier Kouassi and Gershon Koffie are a solid platoon at holding midfield, but Kouassi is a DP who's been oft injured with New England and the Revs had to get Koffie back on loan from Sweden after letting him walk in the off-season.
Related to these roster issues is the lack of development. Homegrown midfielder Zach Herivaux has zero MLS minutes this year and only a handful of appearances on loan in USL. First-round draft pick Brian Wright has a couple of substitute appearances and has been on loan in the USL. Backup left back Donnie Smith also has zero MLS appearances and a handful of USL loan games in Charlotte, but these minutes and appearances in the USOC are too scattered for the Revs to build the back end of their roster.
The Revolution should be a playoff team this season, and probably last season too. The talent is there. But something is wrong and not enough on or off the field gets addressed quickly enough to solve the problems and get the team back on a winning track.
How are teams attacking the Revolution successfully in 2017? (Seriously, we are offensively challenged so we need to know this. Please give us pointers.)
JC: There's no real secret here, the Revs aren't really susceptible to any specific kind of attacking play but constant pressure and/or patient buildup seems to work fine. The Revs are a pretty solid team overall. Their defensive issues seem to be more individual errors or team mentality than any specific tactic.
Fail to clear a ball from the box? Someone on your team is going to be in the perfect spot to take a shot and it's going to score past Cody Cropper in goal. Revs sitting back to protect a lead? That's exactly where you want the Revs’ defense, because they should be trying to attack and counter on you but they never do. This of course assumes the Revs even have a lead, which is something that doesn't happen all that often and especially on the road.
The Revs have been a good home team, but they look lost offensively without Kelyn Rowe and Lee Nguyen in the middle. Will a home crowd and a week to get healthy be enough for the Revs? Maybe for this game, but it's hard to see this team making a run to the playoffs.
Any injuries/suspensions/international duty we should know about? Projected starting XI? Score prediction?
JC: International duty: Antonio Delamea (Slovenia), Je-Vaughn Watson (Jamaica).
Injuries — Out: Kelyn Rowe; Questionable: Diego Fagundez, Lee Nguyen, Krisztián Németh.
Projected lineup 4-2-3-1: Cody Cropper; Donnie Smith, Claude Dielna, Benjamin Angoua, Andrew Farrell; Gershon Koffie, Scott Caldwell; Diego Fagundez, Juan Agudelo, Teal Bunbury; Kei Kamara.
With the injuries the Revs have been dealing with, there's no right answer here. Donnie Smith probably won't start at left back but I remain hopeful. If Nguyen starts you might see more of a 4-4-2 diamond look with two strikers up top. Nemeth could be available off the bench, we'll see.
As always, there is only one score to predict in an ORL-NE game, a 2-2 draw.
Big thanks to Jake from The Bent Musket for stopping by and helping us learn more about this weekend’s opponent.