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The Other Guys: New England 3.0

We look again at the boys from Foxboro with the help of Jake Catanese

New England Revolution v Columbus Crew SC: Eastern Conference Final - MLS Cup Playoffs
Long Island native and former RBNY manager Bruce Arena is taking his first place team to New York for the first time this year.
Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images

Jake Catanese from The Bent Musket is practically a member of the Once A Metro staff at this point, with this already being his third preview of a game between the Red Bulls and New England Revolution this year. We asked Jake another three questions about the team New York will hope the third time is a charm against.

OaM: Despite some stutters after the last time they played the Red Bulls, the Revs are still cruising at the top of the Eastern Conference. Broadly speaking, what went wrong and what was fixed after the losses against Dallas and Toronto?

The loss at Dallas was a classic case of travelling on short rest. The Revs looked tired and a step slow for much of the night, and quite frankly with the form Ricardo Pepi has been in recently I don’t think the Revs minded dropping that game after picking up six points against the New York teams. The TFC game is a different story, where the Revs looked out of sync early in Brad Knighton’s first game in relief of Turner. Knighton made a late decision to come off his line and then made a poor play on a ball that was immediately slotted home to put the Revs down 0-2 just fifteen minutes in before a Tsubasa Endoh wonder strike ten minutes later made it 0-3. The Revs clawed back with two goals but that was too much of a hole to dig out of.

New England hasn’t really had such slow starts like that in many games in 2021 though the season opener in Chicago comes to mind where they did get out of an 0-2 hole to draw 2-2. Knighton in particular has been steadier as he’s gotten several games in a row. The Revs being a little shorthanded have forced them to adjust their formation a bit which we’ll cover in the next answer but overall this is a team that has just been very solid throughout the year and despite the Dallas and TFC losses being in a three game stretch where the Revs got just a single point (a 2-2 draw at Columbus), the Revs have established their place at the top of the standings in the East and the league with three straight wins against Atlanta, Miami, and Montreal.

OaM: With key figures such as Tajon Buchanan and Matt Turner away on Gold Cup duty, which players have been coming out of the shadows and stepping up for the Revs in recent weeks?

Well, I wouldn’t say that anyone has been stepping out of the shadows since Bruce Arena has been rotating his starting lineup fairly regularly but one player has had a couple of breakout weeks in a new formation. Arnor Traustason, the Icelandic international the Revs signed at the beginning of the year, has been tremendous the last two weeks after shifting from left winger inside to left central shuttler in a diamond midfield. Traustason dropped two goals against Miami before setting up Gustavo Bou’s Goal of the Week blast against Toronto and while he’s had some good shifts as a winger, he’s thrived the past few weeks in a more central role and prefers that area of the field.

As far as an unsung hero, well that’s been Matt Polster since he joined last summer when the Revs midfield was a bit of a mess. Now he’s the undisputed holding midfield ace working with a variety of partners from Tommy McNamara and Wilfrid Kaptoum to youngster Maciel. With the Revolution backline in a bit of flux with Gold Cup absences (Henry Kessler) and injuries (Jon Bell and DeJuan Jones), the former Chicago Fire and Rangers man has been vital on both ends of the field. His sliding challenge in the attacking half started the quick counter to that aforementioned Bou rocket and in my opinion should have been a secondary assist.

OaM: Though it is match number three between these teams in 2021, this will be the first one played at Red Bull Arena. Has there been any noticeable difference in the way the Revs perform on the road this season? Any systematic adjustments that Bruce Arena makes?

I think the old adage that it’s harder to win road games is very true in MLS, but the Revs have a solid road mark of 4W-2L-3D this year for 15 of their 33 points on the year. Have there been some not so great performances on the road? Sure, their 0-2 loss at Nashville where they deployed a flat 4-4-2 with Carles Gil at right mid and Tajon Buchanan at right back, similar to the successful playoff formation they had last year, was arguably their worst game of the year. Yes the first fifteen minutes against Chicago and Toronto were bad but the Revs recovered from those horror starts and salvaged one point and it could have been more. Yes, there was an energy let down in Dallas after two rivalry games in less than a week but the Revs came back from that eventually too with their recent winning streak.

Bruce Arena has been pretty successful at keeping the bulk of his key players rested and building up depth via rotation in other spots. The decision to give Jon Bell a run of starts early in the year has paid dividends now with Kessler called up to the Gold Cup since now the Revs have a viable starting option in Bell rather than an untested USL player making the jump to MLS. The diamond midfield is now another tactical look the Revs can deploy to either start or end a game along with their prefered 4-2-3-1

Lineup and prediction

4-4-2 Diamond - Knighton; Mafla, DeLaGarza, Farrell, Bye; Polster, Traustason, Maciel, Gil; Bou, Bunbury

Okay, we’re making a few changes from last week for some potential injuries. Adam Buksa left last week’s game with a possible concussion and though he returned to practice this week I’d like to see him sit a week just to be sure. Center Jon Bell also left last week’s game with a knock as AJ DeLaGarza might get a go in the starting lineup and could leave Colin Verfuth, usually loaned down to Revs II, as the only centerback cover on the bench. Christian Mafla has been covering for DeJuan Jones for the past week or so as Jones deals with an injury and he should continue at left back.

Otherwise it’s kind of the same. Traustason gets to continue his great form in the center of the diamond, Teal Bunbury gets a go up top for Buksa and his pressing even from a true striker position should have an impact. Kaptoum started last week against Montreal and Tommy Mac could get a nod here but I think Maciel will get a go as he’s done very well especially with his passing numbers this year.

Of course I’m taking the Revs in this one and give them the same 3-2 scoreline as our last meeting in Gillette.