Chivas USA will face a new team in the 2013 season Saturday when they host the New England Revolution. After struggling mightily to score at the start of the season, Diego Fagundez and Juan Agudelo (remember him?) have emerged to jumpstart the attack, and the Revs have the stingiest defense in the league. Overall, they've looked pretty good in recent games, and their fortunes may be changing for the better.
In order to get a sense of what's going on in Revolution-land, I spoke with Steve Stoehr of SB Nation Revs blog The Bent Musket. Big thanks to Steve for taking the time to answer my questions!
The Goat Parade asks The Bent Musket:
1. New England has been playing well of late, but they are coming off two straight losses, one to Vancouver in MLS play, and one to D.C. United in the U.S. Open Cup. Are you worried they may be hitting something of a summer slide to halt their positive momentum?
You can't avoid that kind of thought. Going back a game previous to the Vancouver loss, the Revs had just drawn D.C. 0-0 in Foxboro in a match where they were clearly the superior side, but just as clearly played down to their opponents. The dog days of summer have been bad to the Revs before (see also: last season's 10-match winless streak), and it's scary to think that it might happen again, even on a smaller scale. Especially when it started to seem like the Revs were trending way upward.
On the other hand, there are mitigating circumstances. D.C. was just one game, and Bill Hamid played very well to keep the match scoreless. The Revs were very clearly the superior team to Vancouver 11 v 11 - that game could have ended 6-0 to New England if not for the red card - and although the poor response to going a man down is troubling, it's also not going to happen every match. And then, the Open Cup is, well, the Open Cup. There's a lot to be upset about, but it's certainly not "sky is falling" territory just yet.
2. With the exception of the loss to the Whitecaps, New England has been stellar defensively this season. How have they been able to become a lock-down group, even as they have dealt with absences?
It comes down, I believe, to Jose Goncalves. His quality, his presence, his leadership, and his experience has stabilized the unit and made everyone around him miles better. Stephen McCarthy is going through a renaissance in his second year as a defender (although he was awful against Vancouver), learning finally to leverage his size and tenacity while also emerging as a phenomenal passer out of the back. Andrew Farrell is emerging as a Rookie of the Year candidate, and Chris Tierney has continued to be a steady, serviceable left back, chipping in with several assists.
You also can't underestimate the impact of Bobby Shuttleworth's season on the back line. He's statistically the best 'keeper in MLS (or near it after the Vancouver game) and he's been near-flawless in every match this season. It helps to have a great defense in front of you, but it also helps a back line to have a loud, athletic, lock-down keeper behind them.
3. And what about the midfield? Is a single player running the attack? Are they taking turns? Who is really the key man in the middle?
The beauty of the midfield this season is that you can't really answer that with any one player. In the first-choice midfield core you'll see Lee Nguyen, Kelyn Rowe, and Scott Caldwell as the deep-lying defensive midfielder. Each player has an integral role to play in the team's function. Caldwell takes up good positions and cleans up loose balls, recycling possession with safe but accurate passing, though the physical side of his game still needs to progress. Rowe has been a livewire since April, running box to box and setting up goals seemingly at will. He tends to be the most advanced central midfielder, dancing near the top of the box and having the most significant interplay with the wingers. He also finishes chances when he gets them, or has recently.
Nguyen is the guy that everyone knows about, but no one seems to estimate highly enough. He roams the entire midfield, linking play between defense, midfield, and attack depending on the team's needs. He tends to finish games with the highest number of passes in the entire squad, and his completion rate is among the highest as well. He has an advanced soccer brain, and when you look at a lot of the moves that have resulted in goals for the Revs this year, he's almost always involved, and usually near the beginning.
Then you have other contributors like Juan Toja, Kalifa Cisse, Clyde Simms, and Andy Dorman who fill in those roles with their own varied abilities and attributes when called upon. They have all proven to be serviceable - even exemplary - when brought into action.
4. Prediction for this match?
I don't know. The Revs are bad on cross-country trips, and they're coming off of a midweek away match in D.C., too. Plus, while Chivas has been flat-out bad this year, I feel like they're a little unpredictable, and that feeds into my unease. I'll go 1-0 Revolution.
You can find my answers to Steve's questions over here, if you are interested.
What do you think? Leave a comment below!