To get everyone ready for Atlanta United’s matchup against the New England Revolution, we spoke with The Bent Musket’s Jake Catanese to get his take on their start to the season, Brad Friedel, and Gillette Stadium.
DSS: As we get closer to the midway point of the season, what are your takeaways, both good and bad, of the Revolution’s performance up to this point?
BM: I think the Revolution have a much more defined style with Friedel’s high press now than they did with Jay Heaps’ more final third camping strategy. New England was always a pretty solid team on the counter attack, but that was never a featured style under Heaps and Friedel has brought that concept into the forefront and it’s paying dividends on offense. Teal Bunbury is having one of the best seasons of his career and his high energy style of play really fits into the press. Cristian Penilla should be a dark horse candidate for Newcomer of the Year and the MLS All-Star Game roster with his play in the first half of the year. Diego Fagundez has slotted in nicely in the middle and while I think he and the rest of the Revs offense needs to more in non-counter situations, there’s a lot to be happy with so far in New England.
The downside is, the defense is still an issue. The Revs front office spent a few million on centerbacks the last few years as well as left back Gabriel Somi, who got worked by Cristian Techera and the Whitecaps on Saturday. Part of this is a style problem - Friedel wants his fullbacks to be pressing high so there’s a lot of times when they get caught upfield a lot and the Revs give up a lot of opportunities and goals from the flanks in these spots. Also, Somi was really brought in to be a more attack minded fullback to replace Chris Tierney, and in the Revs 3-5-2 wingback set up in Vancouver, Penilla dominated that flank which made him redundant in the offensive half and exposed him as an average at best 1-on-1 defender. I don’t think New England is bad, but I said this about the Revs last year and they missed the playoffs. New England on a good day can compete with anyone in the league, but that doesn’t always translate into wins.
DSS: How do you think Brad Friedel has done?
BM: Brad Friedel has done a lot of very interesting things to start his coaching career and the biggest one has been starting Matt Turner in goal. The third year undrafted keeper out of Fairfield University(respect the MAAC) had gotten a lot of games with the Richmond Kickers in the USL on loan, but had zero minutes with the Revs until he started the opener this season and he’s played every minute since. I was really skeptical about this move, but if there’s one position on the field Friedel should be trusted with, it’s goalkeepers.
Overall, there are a few minor gripes that you would expect with a lot of new coaches. Friedel’s switch to a 3-5-2 against Columbus was aptly countered by Greg Berhalter in a 1-0 loss at home on a late set piece goal and the Revs never settled into the game offensively. While I give most of the credit to the Crew, New England right now is really only prepared to score and generate chances on the counter, and there’s not really a Plan B. New England has failed to close out games and hold on to leads a few times this year and Friedel should be more aggressive with his subs with possession-based guys like Kelyn Rowe and Scott Caldwell on the bench in those situations in my opinion.
Friedel isn’t going to be perfect. There is going to have to be a learning curve, but at least right now, I don’t think the Revs are regressing in his first year. We’ll see how much progress they make in the coming months and if that leads to a playoff spot.
DSS: Gillette Stadium was voted one of the toughest places to play in MLS in a recent player poll. Why do you think that is?
BM: Gillette Stadium is weird.
There are a few contributing factors to this weirdness. Weather has been horrible so far, it’s usually a really long travel/flight for a lot of the teams in MLS, the Turf Monster is always a factor, and on good crowd days, the atmosphere I think catches teams off guard. I will never understand how the Revs can be so good at home and yet so miserably awful on the road. This is not exactly a new problem. It’s been like this for a few years. I think the Revs teams under Jay Heaps played a solid two-way brand of soccer that a lot of teams didn’t exactly know how to deal with or played too conservatively.
It seems like every time SKC visits New England, it’s always windy. Toronto hasn’t shown up to Gillette with a full strength team since they signed Giovinco or so it seems. The Red Bulls took like a decade to win a game there. I can’t explain it. Gillette Stadium is just plain weird. It must be that 2008 SuperLiga Champions banner...