Orlando City and the New England Revolution have had a short but dramatic history in Major League Soccer since the Lions entered the league in 2015. Plenty of wild 2-2 draws made up the meetings in OCSC’s first two seasons, followed by blowouts in 2017 from either team. Both sides will have new managers this time around, though, with James O’Connor getting his first look at the Revs and Brad Friedel making his first trip down to the City Beautiful.
To give us some more information on the new-look Revolution, Jake Catanese of The Bent Musket dropped by to give us the details on New England. And you can read my answers to his questions over at TBM.
Brad Friedel has come in and kept the Revs above the red line in his first year. How has the new head coach put his stamp on the team?
Jake Catanese: At the beginning of the season, a lot of the New England players talked about the professionalism that Friedel brought to the locker room. With Friedel’s vast European experience as a player, there was definitely a quick change in culture in the locker room. There were two-a-day practices as well as a new training staff and the team seemed to adjust very well to Friedel’s new pressing and countering style.
Unfortunately, “above the red line” is just not as impressive as it sounds. The Revs did rattle off a seven-game unbeaten streak before losing three straight, but that stretch included two wins, five draws and a few frustrating performances like a 0-0 result to the Seattle Sounders at home and blowing two leads in Vancouver in a 3-3 game. While New England might have improved a bit in the off-season with some new players, the defense remains an inconsistent mess and New England as an organization is still significantly behind the best teams in the East.
Friedel might be able get this team to claw and fight its way into the playoffs, and it might be dangerous when it gets there or it could get annihilated on the road in the first game. It’s hard to say right now. The more things change, the more things stay the same, or however that saying goes.
Cristian Penilla and Luis Caicedo have quietly been great additions to the league. What can Orlando City fans expect out of these two this weekend?
JC: Expect to have to deal with Penilla’s speed in particular on the flanks. I know Orlando has had its issues defensively and a match-up with Penilla isn’t likely to change things. Penilla’s skills for Friedel’s countering system are nearly perfect as he can create for not only himself but others when he’s out on the break.
Caicedo is just a very solid all-around player who has lined up just about everywhere in the midfield. With one goal and two assists in 17 starts, Caicedo isn’t someone who affects the score sheet a ton but he is someone who disrupts the game and does a lot of little things that won’t show up on the score sheet, like Scott Caldwell does at holding midfield.
The Lee Nguyen transfer saga was one of the talking points of the winter window. How has New England replaced his production this season?
JC: The biggest change for the Revs was installing Diego Fagundez into the central attacking midfielder role to replace Nguyen and Fagundez initially flourished as a goal scorer early in the season. There was a long stretch where he struggled a bit with his playmaking and wasn’t able to rack up assists, but he’s been on a solid run for the past two months. Since the beginning of June, Fagundez has four goals and four assists in eight games, giving him a total of seven goals and seven assists on the season.
Teal Bunbury also began the year up top and just kept scoring, with 10 goals and five game-winners out of the seven total Revs wins this year. His adjustment from a box-to-box right mid under Jay Heaps to a lone striker in a pressing 4-2-3-1 is one of the most amazing things in MLS this year and it shouldn’t be that big of a surprise. Bunbury was actually really solid defensively playing on the right side and now he’s been able to take that and use it effectively up top to help generate turnovers and not just start counters, but finish them as well.
New additions Penilla and All-Star Wilfried Zahibo had chipped in with a combined 11 goals and nine assists as well, so the Revs’ offense has generally been fine for the most part. Whether or not they use the allocation money from the Nguyen trade to improve the team this summer remains another story.
What injuries/suspensions will keep players out this weekend and what is your projected lineup and predicted final score?
JC: Injuries: Chris Tierney is out with a torn ACL.
Lineup (4-2-3-1): Matt Turner; Kelyn Rowe, Jalil Anibaba, Antonio Mlinar Delamea, Andrew Farrell; Wilfried Zahibo, Scott Caldwell; Cristian Penilla, Diego Fagundez, Luis Caicedo; Teal Bunbury.
Replacing Chris Tierney has been a problem for the Revs at left back, and he wasn’t even supposed to be the starter this year. Gabriel Somi was signed to take his place and simply hasn’t adjusted to Friedel’s system or MLS or something. So it’s been a revolving door over there that center back Claude Dielna tried to stabilize. But at this point, if Kelyn Rowe isn’t going to start in the midfield, he should be on the field and left back is as good a place as any, though I don’t expect Friedel to start him there.
Prediction: As always, there is only one prediction for this match-up and that is a 2-2 draw, because that’s the rules.
Thanks again to Jake for taking the time to give us some insider info on the New England Revolution.