Hudson River Blue spoke with Jake Catanese of the Blazing Musket, the successor to SB Nation’s Bent Musket, to learn more about the state of the New England Revolution, New York City FC’s opponent tomorrow in Matchday 16: Here’s your NYCFC vs New England Revolution preview.
Hudson River Blue: The Revolution are coming off a 3-3 draw at Atlanta that must’ve felt like a win. What’s the mood in New England these days?
Jake Catanese: I think the general mood in New England is that we just want the month of May essentially to be over.
Including the game at the Bronx, the Revs will have played five of their last six on the road against some pretty solid teams, though that 3-0 loss in Philly was not unexpected given Carles Gil’s early exit with a knock. The comeback draw in Atlanta coincides with another 3-3 draw at home to Chicago in which the Revs deployed a three-center-back grouping with wingbacks for the first time to try and manage what rotation they have left and it didn’t work early on, but Bruce Arena and the staff are clearly trying things to manage the heavy injury load and still get results.
The positives over the last few games are that the Revs are scoring goals and really capitalizing on the press to great effect. They scored their first goal against Chicago and Atlanta by creating an attacking zone turnover and in both games helped shift the overall tone — starting a comeback against the Fire and temporarily silencing MBS in Atlanta. The Revs were able to manage some of their early season injuries but with Dylan Borrero (done for the year), Henry Kessler (out a couple more months), and Gustavo Bou (barely played in May) all missing extended time on top of veterans like Tommy McNamara yet to feature this year, it’s starting to add up. The goal is to have Kessler and the defense sorted out by the playoffs at which point the Revs should be a threat to make a deep run if they can keep scoring.
HRB: That game was a tale of three halves: Grabbing an early 2-0 lead at the Benz, letting it slip away, then finding redemption in storage time. Are New England a strong team that stumbled? A hit-or-miss team that pulled it off in the end? Something else entirely?
JC: The Revs I think are a team in survival mode. The injuries have gone beyond what a normal 30-man MLS squad can deal with, and that’s completely understandable. Despite the injuries, New England has gotten great performances out of Ema Boateng and the Homegrowns led by Noel Buck, with Esmir Bajraktarevic and Jack Panayotou filling in capably as the Revs have absolutely needed to go all the way down through the roster.
At full strength, the Revs easily could have one of the strongest rosters in the East. Being still in fourth place nowhere near that and only claiming five points from their last five games…I think New England has done enough under borderline catastrophic circumstances to warrant patience as they get healthier.
Obviously, blowing a two-goal lead on the road is not ideal, but the Revs right now are just absolutely not a team that can sit back and bunker out a lead, and even in recent years have struggled to close out games under the best of circumstances. But when you’re already playing your third center back Andrew Farrell at right back for the first time in four years, and starting Omar Gonzalez in the middle, there are not a lot of options to bring off the bench to help solidify your defense at that point.
New England was bombarded all game, got reasonably unlucky with deflections on the first two goals, and then gave up a worldie that was nearly the winner until Carles Gil simply objected to losing on principle. Given a handful of good Petrovic saves, it’s not unfair to think Atlanta deserved not just the win but at least three goals, so while I don’t like how it played out, it is highly acceptable to grab that point like we stole it and run for the getaway plane.
Ideally, the Revs would like to have the bodies to drop Omar in as the third center back late and/or maybe Andrew Farrell as a destroying/roaming No 6-type in front of the defense to close out games, but that went out the window weeks ago. The one true weakness on the roster we’re seeing now is fullback depth as there is no true backup for Brandon Bye on the right hand side as he deals with a knock and paired with Kessler’s absence the backline has suffered tremendously and has leaked a lot of goals. Cult hero Tommy Mac also would be a lovely defensive option anywhere in the midfield but alas, the Revs will have to muster what strength they can from the players available.
HRB: Carles Gil was sensational on Wednesday. He’s always a danger. Who else should NYCFC watch out for on Saturday?
JC: Carles is absolutely on a heater right now. He’s got three goals in his last two full starts and an assist off the bench against Chicago (we’re still not talking about that Philly game when he left early), and it comes at a time when the Revs have desperately needed his finishing from the run of play. Bobby Wood also tallied his fifth goal of the year (tied with Carles for highest on the Revs), and has done really well leading the line for New England for most of the season though I think we might see Giacomo Vrioni up top in this one for rotation and target man height.
However, I think the Homegrowns might get a runout here. Panayotou and Bajraktarevic are both capable out wide and in the middle and given the tight confines might be highly beneficial for New England for the first hour or so. Noel Buck has been tremendous as a full-time starter and surprisingly has drawn the second-highest number of fouls suffered on the team.
HRB: What’s the X-factor that could decide Saturday’s game?
JC: Gustavo Bou’s availability off the bench. He didn’t feature in Atlanta but was named as a substitute. If he’s game fit for any length of time, and the Revs think they have 10-15 minutes to steal a game, I think he has to come on if only for his penchant for highly accurate yet speculative shots from distance.
Games in the Bronx are always delightfully weird affairs given the dimensions and while Bou does not need a green light to shoot from anywhere, I think that rule should especially exist at Yankee Stadium given the number of secondary chances from rebounds and set pieces that good, on target shots tend to generate on this ground.
HRB: Prediction time: Starting XI? Final score?
JC: Do I think the Revs can pull off a three-man backline with wingbacks? No, let’s keep it a little simpler:
I think this offers the Revs the best of rotation from midweek and spunky firepower with good options off the bench like Bou, Boateng, Blessing, Altidore, and Wood. Ben Sweat could get a spot start at left back, but if Bruce has opted for wingbacks instead of the former SKC vet that’s not a vote of confidence for him but we’re past the all-hands-on-deck Klaxon.
Just one point in six games for NYCFC and everyone is on tired legs from midweek…I really want to steal this one, 2-1 Bobby Wood off the bench at the death cleans up a rebound inside the six.