I once read that humans have enough strength to bite their finger clean off like a carrot, and the only thing preventing us from doing so is our own brains. I’m not sure how true it is, but I suggest you meditate on that. Doesn’t that index finger look particularly enticing?
The promised spectacle of the burgeoning Red Bulls-Philadelphia Union rivalry did not disappoint last Saturday, as a 2-0 New York loss still provided plenty of entertainment, and unfortunate controversy for some English midfielders. Despite the loss, there’s plenty of reason for optimism in the fanbase, as the Red Bulls played about as well as you could in a loss, and further solidified their place in the postseason. While not technically clinched, New York stands a healthy 9 points above the playoff line, and can even reasonably hope to host their first round game. Of course, it’s not over ‘til it’s over, but the next stop to getting it over with is the faltering New England Revolution.
MLS has a funny way of being unkind to formerly dominant teams, with a plethora of its best squads inexplicably falling apart rather quickly. New England have been the newest addition to the group, turning in an extremely mediocre campaign after the incredible feats they reached in 2021. The 2021 Revolution was one of the most dominant sides the league has ever seen, cruising to a Supporter’s Shield and breaking the points record along the way — naturally, this led to a first-round playoff exit. But in 2022, the Revs have been unrecognizable, currently 8th in the East on PPG, and looking pretty average on the pitch. Player departures have mauled the organization, with the team losing the likes of Matt Turner, Tajon Buchanan, and Adam Buksa to transfers throughout the course of the year. But the performances have simply not been there, perhaps a victim of their own success as teams are now extra motivated to beat the defending conference champions. Regardless of the reasoning behind it, it’s sure that the über-experienced Bruce Arena has been very disappointed with the way the season has turned out.
Arena has defied the stigma of old, defensive coaches with the Revolution, implementing a direct, transition based system that overran the league in 2021. He sets the team up in a fluid 4-4-2 or a 4-2-3-1 depending on striker availability, with his wingers in particular encouraged to take players on and get the ball into the box quickly. Numbers are poured into the box regularly, leaving ample targets for fullbacks or wingers to cross to when the ball is eventually worked wide. The Revolution lead the league in crosses into the penalty area, with Gerhard Struber even commenting on their effectiveness. Of course Arena is not a one-trick pony, he has one of the league’s best creative players in Carles Gil, who is perfectly capable of playing a precise through ball to tear a team apart through the middle. The offensive problem for New England this season has simply been the team not doing things as well as they did last year. Whether teams are adjusting to playing against them or the quality of play has gone down is a bit of a chicken-egg dilemma, but the goals have slowed down, which will almost always correlate with the points total slowing too.
Compounding the offensive mediocrity are unexpected defensive struggles, as the goals allowed per game has risen from 1.21 to 1.45 in a single year. Arena’s high risk, high reward system results in a lot of transition defending for the Revolution, who despite their defensive dominance conceded many big chances. What was often their saving grace was star goalkeeper Matt Turner, who of course departed for Europe in the beginning of the year. Replacements Brad Knighton and Earl Edwards Jr. did not exactly reach Turner’s levels, with the duo conceding 16 goals in 8 matches between the two of them. This dismal start to the season plays a large part in why the Revolution are where they are currently, as 7 points in their first 8 games left them with a lot of catching up to do. After the arrival of young goalkeeper Đorđe Petrović the defense has stabilized, with the Serbian putting up numbers among the best in the league, but despite his heroics the transition defense has failed him on particularly bad days. Collapses like their 4-0 loss to Montreal, and their 4-2 loss to NYCFC have not been common in recent weeks, but are still entirely possible for a squad that looks far more vulnerable than its predecessor.
The Revolution’s place in the standings is a little deceiving, with the side still very much a quality soccer team capable of putting together good performances. Just last week they dominated an admittedly terrible NYCFC in a 3-0 win, with the side that gave the Red Bulls so much trouble last season certainly not one to underestimate. While the transition defense that has plagued New England for so long happens to be the Red Bulls’ strength, Bruce Arena is a savvy coach that will adjust for the New York gameweek. It’ll be a coaching battle as much as a field one, and should be a fun one to watch.
Most College - Justin Rennicks
In honor of many universities starting classes this week, we recognize the former Indiana Hoosier for looking like he should be on his way to his 2 o’clock Data Management class.
Best fit to play a sick person in a medication commercial - Henry Kessler
This has less to do with his injury history and more to do with the fact that Kessler looks like he’d do a solid job at making an extended “fun” montage while the worst side effects you’ve ever heard of are played as background noise.
Most likely to be a secret Yankees fan - Tommy McNamara
The former NYCFC player, and New York native, must have to choose his MLB opinions wisely living in Red Sox territory.
Most likely to steal your girl - Giacomo Vrioni
The Italian-born stallion recently arrived from Juventus is tall, handsome, and has an accent just foreign enough to have your girl swooning. I’m sorry.
New York Red Bulls (4-2-3-1): Coronel, Tolkin, S. Nealis, Long, Duncan, Edelman, Casseres Jr., Luquinhas, Morgan, Harper, Manoel
New England Revolution (4-2-3-1): Petrovic, D. Jones, Kessler, Farrel, Bye, Maciel, Polster, Buck, Gil, McNamara, Bou
Players to Watch
Bruce Arena is not exactly known for his flexibility and experimental nature, so when he gives two straight starts to a 17 year old, you have to take notice. Buck is a very unknown factor in the public eye, having only made his professional debut with the Revolution’s USL affiliate in April 2021 before signing a Homegrown deal in January 2022. However since making his first team debut against D.C. United in August, he’s racked up 222 minutes and 2 starts, scoring in his most recent game against NYCFC. Typically deployed at winger, the Massachusetts native is very technically skilled and a great finisher, as shown by his quick turn and classy finish from the outside of the box against NYCFC for his first MLS goal. His transition to the first team level has been seamless, and if Arena rewards his good work with another start against the Red Bulls, then he’ll be the designated young player to keep an eye on.
I hate to say it, but a Red Bulls Designated Player has not had the impact on the team that many foresaw. Despite a hot start to his career in New York, where his impactful dribbling and goalscoring impressed many, he’s noticeably cooled off after the brutal summer campaign. Arguably the most difficult part of the transition to MLS, the Brazilian struggled to keep the same energy he brought to the side as the travel became expedited and the heat more frequent.While he certainly hasn’t been bad, even Struber has stripped him of his automatic starter status, with the winger spending more and more time on the bench recently. Going without a goal in your last 12 appearances will make that happen, and while the Red Bulls attack as a whole has struggled in that time period, it’d be nice for their arguably most talented piece to get going. The Revolution defense is a pretty average one statistically, so Luquinhas should have ample opportunity to start getting back into form before playoffs begin.
New England have been a tricky opponent in the past and both teams will be highly motivated, but good form should result in a 2-1 win for the New York Red Bulls of Harrison, New Jersey.