Nashville SC play arguably their toughest match of the season to date tonight; on the road against the league-leading New England Revolution. To get the latest on the Revs, we spoke with Jake Catanese, who covers New England for the Bent Musket.
Ben Wright: New England were a solid side last season, but their improvement has been insane! They’re easily the best side in the league at the moment, and have three starters coming back from international duty. What has led to this success, and what is their ceiling this year and in the near future?
Jake Catanese: This is mainly the difference between having a healthy Carles Gil and not. In 2020 Gil missed time with an Achilles injury which dropped Bou from striker to an odd false nine/withdrawn striker/#10 role that he wasn’t bad at but certainly wasn’t an ideal situation. Gil just does so many things well as far as transitioning in the midfield, creating space, and setting up his teammates that having him at full strength is going to be a tremendous difference for the potential of this team. Just look at the assists, key passes, total goals, etc, and it’s easy to understand why the Revs have one of if not the best offense in the league.
Right now the Revs are leading the Supporter’s Shield standings and have to be considered favorites in the East, which are odd things to type since the Revs are usually lurking just below the “obvious favorites” as they’ve done numerous times on their way to good playoff runs. Their ceiling this year is limitless, but the near future is slightly murkier. We’ll talk about Tajon Buchanan in a bit, but tere’s a decent chance Matt Turner however does stay through the end of the 2022 season and the winter World Cup in Qatar before going to Europe. With Turner in goal, Gil in the middle and Bou and Buksa up top it would be hard to stop the Revs come playoff time for the next two years.
UPDATE: After our conversation, reports have been published that Carles Gil will miss time with a sports hernia.
BW: Tajon Buchanan was named the Best Young Player at the Gold Cup, and is one of the more dangerous wingers in the league. How has he developed, and how has Bruce Arena used him? How long do you expect him to stay in MLS?
JC: Tajon Buchanan is almost certainly and deservedly going to be sold this offseason as the Canadian winger has been on an absolute tear both with the Revs and internationally as the Gold Cup’s Best Young Player and Best XI player. Last year Buchanan had some good moments out wide but really shined out of the right back spot during the Revs playoff run to the Eastern Conference Final. This year he’s played primarily as a true winger but now that the Revs have been doing well in a diamond midfield it wouldn’t shock me to see him get time at right back as well in that formation.
The offers are rolling in for Buchanan but unless the Revs get an absolute mega offer they’re going to keep him until the winter. He’s still a key piece to this team and his speed and confidence in his ability to take on defenders has really grown as he’s gotten minutes with Canada, first with their Olympic U23 team and now their Gold Cup squad. We’re hoping to send him to Europe with an MLS Cup on his resume.
BW: Carles Gil is the MVP frontrunner by a long stretch. But how has Arena managed Gustavo Bou and Adam Buksa, two DPs who play in similar positions? How has he adjusted the attack to fit them both in?
JC: It’s been an interesting journey for Bou and Buksa, who started the year as a platoon up top and both had good success despite that rotation. Now with the Gold Cup absences, and missing Tajon specifically, Arena shifted from his preferred 4-2-3-1 to a 4-4-2 diamond to put both strikers up top. Buksa operates as the traditional #9 target man and Bou kind of floats around and finds space to set up his dangerous long range shooting. The player however who might have benefitted the most from the diamond is Arnor Traustason. The Icelandic international shifted from left wing to the left side shuttling midfielder and has absolutely shined with two goals and two assists in his last three games at that position. With Buchanan coming back into the mix the Revs now have two solid formations to work out of and it’s a really good problem to have.
BW: What does New England need to do to beat Nashville? And conversely, how can Nashville hurt this Revolution side and get a result?
JC: New England just needs to be their usual relentless selves on offense and they’ll be fine.Last time out in Nashville the Revs deployed a flat 4-4-2 with Gil as a right midfielder and Buchanan at right back, similar to their formation during the playoffs last year and it didn’t really work. Nashville had the best chance in the game and converted it in the first half before some long range insurance in the second half. I consider that game in Nashville to be the Revs worst/most ineffective display of the season so I don’t expect them to have the same issues, especially at home.
As far as Nashville goes, I’ve been really impressed with them of late, and especially Hany Mukhtar who didn’t feature in the first matchup earlier in the year. While the recent goal outbursts against Chicago and Cincy are good, that’s what you’re supposed to do against bad teams. I know that Nashville is a good side…but can they do it on the road against *gestures at everyone/everything* in MLS. With mostly road games left on their schedule and currently averaging less than a point on the road, Nashville I think has a difficult task to stay up in the top of the East and a win at Gillette midweek would certainly be a good start and they’re more than capable of pulling it off.
BW: Lineup/score predictions?
JC: 4-4-2 Diamond – Knighton; D Jones, Kessler, Farrell, Buchanan; Polster, Traustason, Maciel, Gil; Bou, Buksa
I am going to give the starting nod to Knighton but it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see Turner jump right back into the action if he’s recovered from the travel from Vegas. I think the Revs stick with the diamond formation and get a lot of help back in the defensive end with Kessler and Buchanan returning. Arena could opt for a 4-2-3-1 in particular to manage Bou and Buksa’s minutes up top but with two home games this week against top East teams I think the Revs want to go all out for these games.
Same as the reverse fixture, I’ll take the Revs 2-0 with Gil getting another two assists on his quest for Carlos Valderama’s league record.