Get ready for a bumpy week, folks. The New England Revolution have two games in four days this round, and the first of them is right around the corner. They'll be taking on Western Conference playoff contenders Real Salt Lake at Gillette Stadium on Wednesday night, part of a crucial home stand from which they'll be hoping to take full points.
Today's Q&A is with Matt Montgomery of RSL Soapbox, SB Nation's Real Salt Lake blog.
TBM: Third in the West isn't bad, but with a 4-4-2 record, RSL has played more games than anyone else in the conference (except Colorado), and are averaging just 1.4 points per game. If anything, they've just seemed a little inconsistent. Can you point to anything in particular that's been troubling RSL lately, and do you think better performances are on the horizon?
MM: Inconsistent is a good place to start with this, and while it seems a little cliché to point at them, it's very easy to blame two things for the dips in performance. The first is the squad turnover, which we'll address in more depth later. Needless to say, players who learned the system, whether they were bit players or starters, had a distinct advantage when it came to preserving continuity. The second is continuity, and this comes from pre-season injuries then injuries as players start to get into the swing of things. We've had somewhere in the range of 500,000 different striker pairings, and honestly, it's hurt us - as has the inconsistency at left back.
TBM: It seems like the defense is in pretty decent working order with only nine goals conceded in ten games. The offense, though, might need work; they've only scored nine those ten. Alvaro Saborio is again the leading scorer, but he's only bagged three. I know it may seem a little disingenuous for someone who writes about the offensively-inept Revolution to criticize, but what's keeping Salt Lake from scoring?
MM: As above, it's about consistency. Saborio plays, Findley's out; Findley's in, Saborio's out; Plata's in, Garcia's out - you get the picture. We haven't been able to see a real understanding develop, and that really hurts. We talk a lot here in Salt Lake City about how essential Alvaro Saborio is to the side, and that's true, but he's not the reason we struggle without him. It probably has something to do with four new strikers in 2013. Four's an awful lot. But let's be clear, it's also partly a problem created by mistakes in defense - when teams get an early lead against us, they'll quite naturally try to protect that. Who can blame them?
TBM: It seemed like Jason Kreis and Garth Lagerwey sorta blew up the core this offseason. RSL had been very good for a number of years with a lot of the same players, but guys like Will Johnson, Jamison Olave, and Fabian Espindola are now plying their trade elsewhere. How has that affected squad cohesion and overall performance this season?
MM: I mentioned this above, and it's certainly been a factor this season. Continuity has plummeted. That's a natural result. Still, it's not gone that far - the core is still together, even if it's a bit changed. Importantly, squad cohesion is actually doing quite well. The new players seem to be integrating well into the squad as people and players, even if the nuances of Jason Kreis's tactical approach haven't quite set in yet. Overall performance has taken a hit, but it's difficult to say how much of a hit that is, exactly.
TBM: Give us an under-the-radar player Revolution fans should watch out for in this match.
MM: Somehow, our players have stayed rather above-the-radar in the early goings this season. Ideally, I'd answer with "Sebastian Velasquez" or somebody like that, but the hype around him has grown substantially this season, and it's sort of made him less under-the-radar. But he's a dangerous option from the bench, and he played a vital role in our second goal against Vancouver. I'd also say Olmes Garcia, but hype's big around him, and Joao Plata's getting plaudits for his assists this season. Let's say Devon Sandoval, then, as he's a rookie, a rather unknown quantity, and could get some time in as a hold-up striker with Alvaro Saborio still out.
TBM: Finally, let's have your projected starting XI and a scoreline prediction.
MM: XI: Rimando; Beltran, Borchers, Schuler, Wingert; Beckerman, Grabavoy, Velasquez, Morales; Plata, Sandoval. With a 4-3 scoreline, because hey, we haven't scored enough.