Tomorrow night the Portland Timbers take on the New England Revolution at home. However, because the Timbers now only play the Revolution only once per year, knowing just what's going on with them when they do happen to meet during the year is a bit trickier. To help us figure out this current New England side, however, Steve Stoehr from SB Nation's New England Revolution blog The Bent Musket.
Can you tell us a little bit about what's different with this New England Revolution side from last year? Who are the key additions? Who are the key losses?
It's a bit of a new-look side. Key additions would have to be Jose Goncalves and Kalifa Cisse, who have given this entire team a completely different look in terms of bite and veteran leadership. Goncalves has been the most consistent player in the team all year so far, and Cisse is just now beginning to demonstrate his excellent Premier League pedigree in midfield. Andrew Farrell was also a key addition. He brings defensive presence to the right-back position, but also a level of dynamism and confidence we haven't seen there in a while. If he stays healthy, I think he's a shoo-in for Rookie of the Year.
In terms of losses, the obvious departure is Benny Feilhaber. Outside of him, most of the pieces that left were bit parts. You could also characterize Juan Toja as a key addition since he didn't get a lot of time last year, but so far his contribution to the attack has been erratic and, at times, more harmful than helpful.
Overall it's a team bursting with talent that should be playing a lot better than it has. The defense does look better thanks to Goncalves, but everywhere else the squad has seemed disjointed. Saturday's win over Philadelphia was the first time we really got a look at what they can do when they're firing on all - or even just most - cylinders.
The Revs seem to have had a mixed season so far. A win here, a loss there, a couple nil-nil draws. What's going on with the team? Why are they so inconsistent?
I have no idea. They had plenty of time to gel in preseason, and honestly they looked like they had it all figured out coming into the regular season. Since then, it's been frustration after frustration. They honestly play like they don't exactly know what they're supposed to be doing at any given time. That improved against Philly this weekend, but the root of the problem has to be down to coaching. When you see players running around confused like that, and never seeming to get on the same page, you have to look above them for the reason. I personally hope Heaps can get it and right the ship before it starts to become an issue of whether or not he should keep his job.
Every team has those few key players who make an impact on the field, who are those players for New England? Who is the player that probably nobody outside of New England has heard about, but is expected to perform?
The key players lately have been Jose Goncalves and whomever is playing keeper. Using Saturday night as more of a blueprint, I'd say the guys who make the Revs tick are Goncalves, Kalifa Cisse, Lee Nguyen, and Kelyn Rowe. Goncalves is the team's best defender, hands down. Cisse owns the middle of the park, and his mix of physicality and touch is something that this team has been missing for a long time. Nguyen and Rowe are the playmakers, with Lee playing a bit of the slashing dancer, dribbling through players and trying to create the chances with short passes, while Rowe has the ability to get forward and play a bit more of a direct game.
As for someone not well-known outside of New England, I'm not sure. I have a feeling most of our best players aren't well-known outside of Foxboro. Rowe is a good example, as are Goncalves and Cisse. We'll have to see more on Thursday night before I can give you a better answer for that. Up until this week, the team wasn't really ticking at all, so picking out a "key" player was pretty tough.
Predicted starting lineup?
It would appear that Andrew Farrell is out for this game after being brutalized by Michael Farfan on Saturday. That creates a defensive shortage. I'm not sure, but I would guess the lineup will look something like this, in a 4-1-4-1 set:
(R to L): Bobby Shuttleworth; Darrius Barnes, Stephen McCarthy, Jose Goncalves, Chris Tierney; Kalifa Cisse; Diego Fagundez, Kelyn Rowe, Lee Nguyen, Ryan Guy; Jerry Bengtson
If Heaps doesn't stick to that formation he'd be insane, considering how well it worked. But, then, I'm not the coach. Also, you could see Juan Toja starting pretty much anywhere across midfield in an attempt to get some rest for some other players. I'd say that Saer Sene has a shot at a start, but I don't think he's 90-minutes fit yet.
UPDATE: MLS issued a press release stating that Chris Tierney has been suspended one game due to a reckless challenge against Philadelphia. He will serve his suspension against the Timbers tomorrow night and will not play.
Big thanks to Steve for taking time out of his day to answer my questions. You can read more about the New England Revolution, including my own answer to his questions, on The Bent Musket.
What do you think of this New England Revolution side?