With the New York Red Bulls facing neighborly foes New England Revolution for the first time in 2022, we turned to our friends at SB Nation sibling site The Bent Musket to find out what to expect this go-round from the team that swept the Red Bulls last year. TBM writer Jake Catanese answers our questions and offers his thoughts on Saturday’s matchup in Foxborough.
Obviously the Revs haven’t quite maintained the Shield-winning form of last year to start 2022. How much of this can be chalked up to CCL and how much appears to be genuine issues with this year’s re-tooled squad?
Yeah, the Revs weren’t dealt a good hand early in this season and the CCL is certainly part of that. Having their first round series with Haitian club Cavaly cancelled meant New England adjusted their preseason plans to get extra games in certainly wasn’t helpful but that wasn’t the biggest issue in the long run.
With their CCL series against Pumas, the Revs had to play a 5 games in 15 days stretch essentially without their starting goalkeeper in Matt Turner and starting centerbacks Andew Farrell and Henry Kessler available for the bulk of those games. I give backup keeper Earl Edwards Jr and defenders Omar Gonzalez and Jon Bell all the credit in the world, they tried their hardest, but the Revs never had a chance to get their full team going out of preseason and it showed.
Now the Revs got dealt a bad hand here and the league should’ve rescheduled their match against RSL that was played in between the two CCL games even before it was played in whiteout conditions, but I don’t know if that was enough to help the Revs win that series. Bruce Arena’s diamond formation has been great for the Revs but we’ve seen in the knockout games in the CCL and MLS Cup Playoffs that the Revs concede a lot of possession in the middle of the field and against Pumas they were under siege from the flanks as the Revs fullbacks were tasked with too much space to defend and the lack of tactical adjustments in Mexico is what ultimately doomed New England. This is still a good team, Carles Gil is still an MVP caliber player and the Revs should be able to get healthy and work their way out of this funk. But they will need to find a way to close out games with the personnel they have or get reinforcements in the summer.
Who are the new regulars in the New England lineup who Red Bulls fans might not be used to in Revs colors? How have they been fitting in the side?
I have to say, Sebastian Lletget has done wonders for the Revs midfield as far as combination play. He adds a different playmaking element to the midfield and his late runs have already proven to be problematic as he’s been able to find the scoresheet. Essentially, Lletget is replacing Tajon Buchanan who was too good to take out of the lineup but not entirely suited for possession based play in the middle of the field. While Buchanan covered a lot of ground and still got to use his speed advantageously in 1-v-1 situations, the Revs are hoping that the more balanced midfield presence Lletget offers will serve them well in the long term. Finding a partner in that central shuttling role is a big key for the Revs, as well as at times a true holding partner for Matt Polster when he needs the help late in games.
Jozy Altidore has been getting minutes but more as a wide player which seems odd since he’s the perfect candidate to put up top late in games to spell Adam Buksa and let the Revs play with one striker. We’ll see how his role develops as the year goes on and if and more likely when Buksa gets sold in the summer. Omar Gonzalez has been essentially forced into the starting lineup due to injuries and sadly I think Omar’s days as a full time starter in MLS are over but he still could have a key role to play for the Revs this year. We haven’t seen it yet, but dropping Omar late in games as a third centerback to help close out games is certainly a strong tactical option and one I think Bruce would’ve liked to have available to him if not for needing Omar to start early on.
Has Bruce Arena been mixing things up at all tactically or are the Revs still playing his simple, conventional formations?
Sigh...no, Bruce has been sticking with his diamond and at times this year it has already proved really, really potent on the attacking side. The issue is on the defensive side where we’ve already seen the Revs squander away wins despite multi-goal advantages. Yes, the Revs have some injuries but Bruce always seems hesitant to substitute and when he does the tactics rarely change and it has cost his team.
The Revs should be easily able to switch between their diamond and say a 4-2-3-1 or a three centerback/two fullback look without giving up much on the offensive end. This is a team that can counter very easily if it wants to and has options off the bench to really change their shape and close down games. We just haven’t seen Bruce deploy those options effectively or in a timely manner when they’re needed but hopefully as players get healthier more of those tactical options and late game scenarios can get worked on and improved in training.
Andrew Farrell, Henry Kessler, and Matt Turner are the big question marks, with Farrell I think being the most likely to return. Assuming all three can’t go, it will be a similar lineup to the one that started the second leg at Pumas:
Edwards Jr; Jones, Bell, Gonzalez, Bye; Polster, McNamara, Lletget, Gil; Bou, Buksa
I think the Revs do get back in the winning column, they always seem to find ways to score against that vaunted Red Bulls organized defense, I think a nice 3-1 win would do a lot of good to forget the Revs previous week of games.