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Portland Timbers vs. New England Revolution Preview Interview

Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports

The Portland Timbers take on the New England Revolution today in MLS play and we have got the inside scoop on the Revs from Steve Stoehr of our sister site, The Bent Musket.

The Revolution seem to have cooled off drastically after their early-season nine game unbeaten run and have now gone five games without a win. What happened that cause the Revs to start dropping points and is it something that can be turned around?

That's a pretty tough question. I think it's a combination of factors: the Revs played a lot of weak teams on long travel and short rest during the unbeaten streak; they are struggling heavily with focus issues, finding themselves unable to focus for 90 minutes, especially after grabbing a lead; and finally, the summer slump is a time-tested hallmark of the Jay Heaps-era Revolution.

The first factor explains itself, but the second can be seen especially in the last five matches. They've gone 0-1-4, and in each and every one of those games they took the lead before coughing it up afterwards. Their inability to protect leads is troubling, and it speaks to a lack of focus. The Revs are at their best when they are shoving the game down your throat and suffocating you with the high press. What they've done lately is press, score, and then sit back and dawdle. When that happens, teams get numbers forward and overwhelm the Revolution defense, which leads to conceding goals. The Revs need to stay locked in and put teams away before sitting back to protect leads, and they need to maintain concentration when they do pack it in.

The third factor is sort of inexplicable. It's just how things have gone for the Revs since Heaps took over. They start slow, get hot in April/May, get REAL cold in the summer, and then turn it back on in the fall. Think of last season, where they started very slow in the first five games or so, then won five in a row, and then lost eight in a row before shaping up for their ridiculous close-season run with Jermaine Jones. There's a pattern here. I just wish I could explain why.

Jermaine Jones has been a big part of the Revolution since his arrival in the middle of last season, but he is expected to miss the match against the Timbers due to the groin injury he suffered last week; who steps in for Jones and how does that change the New England midfield?

Well, the good news is that the Revs have been coping without Jones in the midfield for most of the season, since even when he was healthy, he was providing cover at center-back for the most part. The bad news is that the New England midfield is not the same without him, and by "not the same" I mean "not nearly as good."

Jones' work rate and vision commands attention, and it does wonders for Lee Nguyen's ability to create and score. Without him, the Revs can turn to either Andy Dorman or Daigo Kobayashi to fill that void. Neither does all the things that Jones does, but the both have strengths that can create advantages. Dorman has a great understanding with Scott Caldwell in terms of going forward and staying back. They alternate well and almost seem to read each other's mind. That has lead directly to Caldwell's best offensive season of his career; he has two goals and four assists this season, both career highs and it's only June. Dorman provides some height in midfield as well. He is, however, a yellow card liability, and his passing acumen and athletic ability just aren't in the same class as Jones.

Kobayashi is smooth on the ball. He plays the simple game so well, and with him on the pitch, possession for the Revs in midfield is made markedly easier because of his nature as a facilitator. Kobayashi also compliments Nguyen fairly well in that he provides the Revs' playmaker with a passing outlet so Kobayashi can recycle the ball while Nguyen moves into more dangerous positions. Kobayashi also works hard, but he's not as defensively-sound as Dorman or Jones, and he'll never just take the game by the neck and create magic the way that Jones can.

Chances are you'll see both at varying points in this match, but without Jones, you're going to see a midfield that might struggle with ideas if Portland game plans well.

The other big player that the Revs will be missing against the Timbers this weekend is forward Juan Agudelo and his two goals and four assists. New England, currently the second highest scoring team in MLS, are known as a side with a number of different attacking threats, but who will step up in Agudelo's absence to drive the New England attack?

Agudelo's going to be replaced by either Diego Fagundez or Kelyn Rowe. Both have been underwhelming this season, despite Rowe's respectable stat line of three goals and two assists. Neither brings the same package that Agudelo does, which is size, strength, technique, and innovation. The two of them do, however, have their own unique skill set.

Fagundez scored a beautiful free kick last weekend, so we can add "set piece danger" to his already-impressive quiver of skills. He's great on the ball and one-on-one, and he accelerates from a standing start to full speed in no time flat. He's at his best when he's being aggressive, floating and swapping with the other wingers and trying to work chances in tight spaces. Diego's problem is that he's predictable, and teams appear to have figured him out. He's lacking confidence and he's still developing that second go-to move that is the difference between a good talent and a great player. If he replaces Agudelo, you'll see the skill and the inventiveness still there, but the strength and the ability to fight for goals will diminish.

Rowe is a better central midfielder than he is a winger, but that doesn't mean he's poor at the latter. He's a good enough dribbler to work nifty sequences in tight spaces, but prefers to pick his head up from a little deeper and play the killer ball that sets up a goal. He also has probably the best shot from distance on the team. Rowe's biggest problem is consistency. He's either on fire or completely absent; there is no middle ground. The big risk you take with putting Rowe in Agudelo's position is that he just won't become involved enough in the game, and the left side of the attack will be pretty much non-existent. He also doesn't attack the goal in the same way or with the same relentlessness that Agudelo brings. You will, however, get vision and a distance threat that Agudelo could not hope to possess.

Bonus question: What is your predicted lineup?

Bobby Shuttleworth; Chris Tierney, Jose Goncalves, Andrew Farrell; London Woodberry; Scott Caldwell, Andy Dorman; Diego Fagundez, Lee Nguyen, Teal Bunbury; Charlie Davies

Check out our answers to Steve's questions over at The Bent Musket.