Nashville SC closes out its four match home stand against New England Revolution. New England is top of the East after three matches, and looks like one of the league’s premier sides in the early stages of the season. To get a better look at the Revolution, we spoke with Jake Catanese of The Bent Musket.
Ben Wright: New England has been probably the best in the East through three games. What’s at the core of their success and do you think they’ll sustain it over 34 games?
Jake Catanese: It all starts with Carles Gil, the Revs were at times very solid last year without but it’s impossible to replace Gil’s level of talent and playmaking in the middle of the field. If Gil can play like he has to open the season, the Revs are going to be pretty darn good.
Obviously, Gil is tremendously talented, but the Revs also boast one of the deepest rosters in the league in my opinion. New England boasts tremendous central midfield depth behind Gil with Wilfrid Kaptoum, Matt Polster, youngster Maciel, Luis Caicedo back from injury in 2020, and veterans Tommy McNamara and Scott Caldwell. A brand new left flank in Icelandic winger Arnor Traustason and left back Christian Mafla have both made their debuts with solid effect which could force Teal Bunbury and DeJuan Jones into more substitute/utility roles and both were very key pieces last year.
The biggest challenge for Bruce Arena will be his player rotation and keeping everyone as fit as possible, which should be easy to do with this roster and still produce results even if one of the DPs isn’t on the field.
BW: Carles Gil, Gustavo Bou and Adam Buksa have all produced on the stat sheet so far. How have they looked on the field? Has Bruce Arena gotten the best out of them?
JC: Carles Gil has looked nothing short of an MVP candidate so far. Adam Buksa really looks far more comfortable and is getting significantly more touches thanks to Gil’s return, I will continue to say that between the pandemic stoppage and Gil’s injury, the most affected player by all of these things last year was Buksa by a long shot. Gustavo Bou missed last week against Atlanta United but scored a screamer in practice earlier this week so that might have been a precautionary resting rather than serious injury.
The question still remains for me as to how best use all three of these players. Bou is by far the Revs best pure finisher, but usually occupies an odd second striker/false nine/central playmaker role that forces Gil to play more as an incutting right winger. In the playoffs last year, we saw this work really, really well with the addition of Tajon Buchanan to right back, overlapping Gil and causing a lot of problems. This year Buchanan has featured mostly as a winger with mixed results. Buchanan struggled at left wing in Chicago before a much better day last week at right wing with Gil in the center. Buksa definitely is a great option for the Revs on set pieces and build up play, but Bou is better on counters and poaching goals in the box so there’s definitely a way to make all of this work, but really hard to balance in game sometimes.
I’m still not sure what the best partnership for all three DPs are because they still haven’t played that many games together, but that small sample size, mostly last year’s playoff run and the start of this year, is pretty good. I think Bou would’ve added another goal against Atlanta somehow, the Revs had too many decent opportunities to only score once from open play and then Gil’s winning penalty. Late in games managing and balancing Bou’s scoring prowess with Buksa’s overall hold up style of play is going to be crucial to getting results. If Arena gets that part of his game management right, along with his pretty stacked subs bench, the East is going to be in trouble.
BW: Henry Kessler has been a starter basically since he was drafted. Can you talk about him a bit and how he was able to adapt to the professional level so quickly?
JC: I complained for years every MLS SuperDraft that the Revs needed to get a centerback to replace AJ Soares going back all the way to 2014, and Bruce Arena in his first full offseason went to his alma mater and selected Kessler out of Virginia and the Revs have never looked back. I think what’s so impressive about Kessler is despite being really, really solid last year, he looks better this year and that’s probably thanks to his US Olympic qualifying stint. His passing (90% against Atlanta last week) and decisions on the ball look a lot crisper and in those Olympic games in particular we saw Kessler be incredibly comfortable on the dribble, moving forward with the ball regularly.
I don’t know if it’s easier for centerbacks or defenders in general to adapt to the professional ranks easier coming out of college, but it seems like defenders can just have a bigger impact and get more minutes early in their careers. The Revs had a lack of depth at centerback last year and Kessler filled that role and now gets a chance to expand his skillset and establish himself as a bonafide starter. If he can become a little better in the air to win a few more duels, it wouldn’t shock me to hear his name get a few rumors around Europe or a January/MLS offseason call-up for the senior USMNT squad.
BW: Do you have a lineup/score prediction for Saturday?
JC: I’m going to keep the same lineup that beat Atlanta 2-1, because if it’s not broke there’s no reason to fix it. I will add that I’ve been on Bruce to use not only all of his subs, but much earlier. Last week only Bunbury and McNamara came on to secure the wing spots and I think the Revs need to do more than that with the depth they have. If Bou is ready to go it wouldn’t shock me to see him start as well and despite a solid debu last week, the Revs might pump the brakes and give Maciel a breather but they are really high on him so far this year which was unexpected.
4-2-3-1: Turner; D Jones, Kessler, Farrell, Bye; Maciel, Polster; Traustason, Gil, Buchanan; Buksa
Nashville versus New England games are usually cagey and low scoring, but I’m leaning on Nashville’s early struggles biting them again with the Revs starting off strong and holding on 2-1 again, an opening goal from Buksa before giving way to Bou to seal the deal.
Thanks to Jake for his time and expertise! Make sure to follow his coverage of the New England Revolution on Twitter @JCatanese43.