Zoomed N: A local perspective on New England Revolution

Nashville SC heads north to take on New England Revolution on Saturday. To get a better look at the Revs, we talked to Jake Catanese of The Bent Musket. For the latest New England Revolution news, make sure to follow them @TheBentMusket.

Ben Wright: In 5th place, New England have lost just one out of their last five. Has life under Bruce Arena been consistently good, or have there been struggles?

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Jake Catanese: Anything is going to look consistently good compared to the Brad Friedel era in New England. But while there has been far more success for the Revs with Bruce, New England has certainly struggled to get results overall and this is going back to last year. Right after sacking Friedel, the Revs rattled off an 11-game unbeaten streak, but since a 3-0 loss to LAFC last August, the Revs are currently on a 7 win / 6 loss / 12 draw streak in MLS play (not including the loss to Philadelphia in the knockout stages of MLS is BACK or Open Cup play).

That 7-6-12 stretch averages to about 1.3 points per game, which isn’t bad, but it’s almost exactly their PPG total from 2019. Back-to-back wins against Montreal and DC United have certainly helped things for this year and the separation from the bottom of the Eastern standings is a welcome sight for a team that had looked to improve on simply making the playoffs in 2019. I’m not sure New England can break into the Top 4 sitting 5 points behind Orlando, but if they can close out 2020 strong offensively and carry that form over into next year, this will be a very dangerous team in the East.

BW: New England have scored 15 goals this season, just four more than Nashville. Has finishing been an issue for NE, and if so, what’s caused those issues?

JC: So it’s a two fold issue between the Revs just simply have been horrendous in front of goal and well, Carles Gil is really, really good at soccer and more importantly Gil’s ability to generate key passes that lead to shots in the attacking third. Gil only played two games in 2020, carrying an Achilles injury into preseason before aggravating it during the MLS is BACK tournament and going down for what might be the rest of the year. However, in one of his starts against Montreal during that MLS is BACK tourney, he recorded 12 key passes and for a long stretch this year, the Revs have missed that creativity and effectiveness.

Overall, the Revs have struggled to generate “big” chances in front of goal and looking at a lot of their expected goal (xG) maps it’s really telling how a lot of their shots come from longer distances and get blocked in traffic. New England doesn’t put a lot of shots on target and when a lot of your shots are half-chances anyway, it’s really noticeable in the long run.

BW: It seems like New England has plenty of attacking talent, with Gustavo Bou, Lee Nguyen, Adam Buksa, Diego Fagundez and more on the roster. Who have been some key performers, and on the flip side, have any players underperformed?

JC: Gustavo Bou was really forcing a lot of things when he was being asked to be the Revs primary finisher and playmaker, but has looked a lot better recently now that he’s just being asked to score, notching the game winner against DC with a tidy finish. Bou has five goals and three assists on the year, just ahead of the steady hard-working Teal Bunbury, who has four goals and an assist to go along with his never ending hustle.

As far as disappointments, besides the Gil injury, it’s a toss up between Cristian Penilla and Adam Buksa. Penilla was asked to fill the central playmaking role for a few games and was dreadful, getting relegated to the bench. But that’s a very talented player to have as a substitute, and Penilla set up both late goals in the Revs 2-0 win over DC United. Not only did Penilla set up Bou’s winner, but alsa Buksa’s skillful chip over Hamid to seal the win in that match. Buksa was often stranded up top for New England, which is not a new problem for the Revs lone striker formation, but between Gil’s lack of service in particular and weeks lost to the pandemic shutdown, it’s easy to wonder what Buksa could have done in his first full season under normal circumstances.

BW: What would you say are some main strengths and weaknesses, and how do you think they could come into play against a Nashville side that’s strong defensively and can cause issues on the counter?

JC: I haven’t gotten to talk about the Revs defense yet, which has been spectacular. Henry Kessler should be a finalist for Rookie of the Year easily, I’ve given up caring whether Andrew Farrell is better as a center or right back and just appreciate the heck out of what he does every week. Brandon Bye and DeJuan Jones continue to make strides at fullback and Jones in particular with his speed can be very dangerous on the flank. New England fans firmly believe that Matt Turner is the best American keeper in the world right now and should be the USMNT #1.

I am very intrigued by this match up, because I am always hesitant to think the Revs have the advantage in the “mirror matchup” – going up against another 4-2-3-1 where both teams might operate better on the counter and don’t mind defending first. Everyone knows where New England is going to look for goals between Bou and Buksa up top and a lot of teams have found success forcing other Revs to carry the attacking burden. If the Revs form is picking up, this would be a great game to break out of their low-scoring/low-chances template of 2020.

BW: Do you have a lineup/score prediction?

JC: 4-2-3-1: Turner; D Jones, Kessler, Farrell, Bye; Caldwell, Rowe; Penilla, Nguyen, Bunbury; Bou

New England is without Matt Polster for a few games as he’s out with a concussion. That’s a big deal, cause Polster’s been excellent at the holding midfield spot and was a really excellent summer signing. Another good addition in Tommy McNamara could easily get a starting nod in one of the two holding/central midfield spots. Someone we haven’t seen a lot of yet for the Revs is Kekuta Manneh and I really think he could form a great platoon with Penilla in one of the winger roles with Tajon Buchanan in the mix there as well. There’s a lot of different looks Bruce Arena can start or finish with thanks to his depth, we’ll see if he takes advantage of it again like he did last week against DC.

I think the Revs continue their winning streak with a 2-0 victory and Lee Nguyen finding the back of the net.

Author: Ben Wrightis the Director of Soccer Content and a Senior MLS Contributor for Broadway Sports covering Nashville SC and the US National Team. Previously Ben was the editor and a founder of Speedway Soccer, where he has covered Nashville SC and their time in USL before journeying to Major League Soccer since 2018. Raised in Louisville, KY Ben grew up playing before a knee injury ended his competitive career. When he is not talking soccer he is probably producing music, drinking coffee or hanging out with his wife and kids. Mastodon

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