Ahead of Sunday's match-up between the New York Red Bulls and New England Revolution, we took a couple of minutes to sit down with The Bent Musket's Regiment Commander Steve Stoehr to get a sense of what to expect.
OaM: Diego Fagundez recently graduated from High School. Should we be worried that he can now focus 100% on soccer?
TBM: Be afraid. Be very afraid.
OaM: In 2013, the Revolution played at a pace of 1.5 points per game. So far in 2014, they're at 1.77 PPG. What's been the difference so far this year?
TBM: First off, let's temper expectations a little bit by recognizing that a pretty-unprecedented run of form has precipitated this 1.77 PPG pace. I hardly expect the Revs to keep up this kind of winning/unbeaten streak (it'd be nice, though). Still, the major piece that clicked into place was the shift of Patrick Mullins up to the line-leading striker role and moving Teal Bunbury wide. It allows Bunbury to be in a position where his size creates mismatches, as well as utilizing his best instincts as a run-at-goal forward. Mullins, meanwhile, has shown excellent movement and physicality with composed hold-up skills, and also has the nose of a true poacher in front of goal.
I should also note that the lack of Kelyn Rowe may have had something to do with this. It may seem counter-intuitive, but hear me out. Rowe is one of the most dangerous and dynamic attacking players in the league, true. But partnered with Lee Nguyen in the middle of the pitch, sometimes the two don't always complement each other so well. Daigo Kobayashi, meanwhile, was the perfect foil for Nguyen, and his simple game of facilitation in the attacking third allowed Lee, Diego, Teal, and Mullins to truly shine. I believe Matt Doyle compared it to Maverick and Iceman, in the case of Nguyen and Rowe, and Maverick and Goose in the case of Nguyen and Kobayashi. Rowe is clearly the starter, but it's an interesting thought.
OaM: Bobby Shuttleworth has taken over as full time keeper for the retired Matt Reis. How is he doing in his first full season as the #1 keeper?
TBM: Bobby's been up and down. He's had a few matches, especially early in the season, where he really should have done better on several goals. However, the Revs have also played pretty solid defense in recent weeks, and Bobby's been a big part of that. The bottom line is that Bobby is not Matt Reis, and maybe he'll never get there, either. However, he's at least a good, mid-level MLS starter and so far, he's getting the job done.
OaM: New England had been unbeaten in 7 matches before falling to Montreal last weekend. Does the loss take the wind out of the Revs sails and improve the Red Bulls chances?
TBM: I want to say no, but historically (re: the general feeling I get from my own memory, not backed up by hard statistical evidence) the Revs do not handle being knocked off a good streak very well. They'll go on tears where they score at will, outplay opponents, and seem to do no wrong. Then, they lose a match, and they put in at least a month of lackluster performances. I'm hoping that the maturity and experience now in this team will help carry them forward, but it's anybody's guess.
Personally, I'm not sure the Revs are really as good as their recent run makes them seem. It wasn't so long ago that they were playing lost on the pitch and struggling to score goals, let alone win games. There are question marks even in positions where lately the questions have looked to be answered, and confidence still has a disproportionate level of influence on this squad. I won't lie, I'm apprehensive. Granted, playing the Red Bulls at home as been pretty automatic since the Revs moved to Gillette, but still. As New England proved in Toronto and Philadelphia this season, all curses must end.
OaM: Projected starting XI and prediction
TBM: Bobby Shuttleworth; Chris Tierney, A.J. Soares, Jose Goncalves, Andrew Farrell; Andy Dorman; Kelyn Rowe, Lee Nguyen; Diego Fagundez, Patrick Mullins, Teal Bunbury
No one's hurt and this looks like the first-choice XI, so I don't expect changes. I want to predict a bounce-back win, especially since Henry and (probably) Olave won't play on turf, Dax is supposed to be out, and Cahill is with Australia, but I just don't feel that confidence. I'll go out on a limb anyway and say it'll be a nervy 2-1.