Last week the Revs earned a road point from a hard-fought 1-1 draw with the Chicago Fire. Now they return to Gillette Stadium hoping to take a full 3 from defending MLS Cup Champions Sporting Kansas City. But KC will be no walk in the park for Jay Heaps' side, who will hope that their home-field advantage will help them put a goal or two past one of MLS's toughest backlines. We spoke with Ben Gartland of SBN's The Blue Testament about just what the Revs can expect from their opponent this Saturday.
TBM: Getting knocked out of the CONCACAF Champions League sounds like it was a real bummer. II imagine that killed your MLS Cup buzz a bit. How has Sporting Kansas City bounced back from that? Any lessons learned?
BG: If anything it's been a better season for Sporting KC since then. Sure, it would've been nice to advance in CCL but this was also the first time Sporting KC had been in the knockout round for the past several years. It allowed the starters to get an idea of what kind of competition going up against the top Mexican squads is. Now, assuming Sporting KC doesn't collapse in the 2014-2015 group stages, they should be better prepared for next year's games.
In regards to games, Sporting Kansas City has bounced back really well from the loss to Cruz Azul. They are undefeated in those games, winning three and drawing once. The extra rest helps a lot, as does having Chance Myers and a full lineup back. Now they turn their thoughts to the domestic crowns and they look to still be strong.
TBM: Dom Dwyer had a hell of a season in 2013, for both Kansas City as well as Orlando. And it's starting to feel like he'picking up right where he left off here in 2014. What would you say is clicking for him in Peter Vermes' system, and what could he still be doing better?
BG: The center forward spot on Sporting Kansas City is always the subject of hot debate amongst the Sporting Kansas City community. One thing that Dwyer does really, really well is his pursuit of balls on the attack. Peter Vermes refers to him as a "pit bull" just because he's so tenacious in his pursuit. This allows him to get in spots not everyone else gets to and to find the back of the net, as he did against Montreal.
The only problem is that his performance against Montreal doesn't happen every game. Sometimes he over-pursues, gets frustrated and ends up taking bad shots, which is where a player like Claudio Bieler is better since he is more of a poacher. I would say in those instances that Dwyer needs to calm down and be patient, but then he loses the essence of who he is.
TBM: It's not something we ever really got to see during his time in New England, but it does seem that Benny Feilhaber is enjoying a consistent run of good form. You have to admit, though, that it took some time. How has Benny's role evolved, if at all, since he was traded to Kansas City and where do you think his ceiling is?
BG: I think where Feilhaber is now is where Vermes intended him to be when they traded for him, but you're right he did take some time to develop into the Sporting Kansas City system. A lot of that, I believe, has to do with adjusting to the style of attack that Sporting KC has. It was noticeable that he was getting tired, that he was disappearing in the midfield and was overall just.... there.
Then he started to turn it around. He adjusted to Sporting KC's system and was able compete physically with his teammates. He has turned into one of the best attacking midfielders in the league and a lot of that has to do with Graham Zusi on the wing and Uri Rosell in the midfield with him. As high as Zusi's and Rosell's ceiling is, the higher level that Feilhaber can play. His ultimate ceiling this year is to be called up to the World Cup squad. Based on the latest call ups it doesn't seem likely but you never know....
TBM: Kansas City are currently tied with the Galaxy as MLS's stingiest defense. It's starting to seem a near impossible task to breakdown this backline. But no team's defense is perfect, right? So, what would you say is one weak point in SKC's armor? What's the backline's greatest strength (i.e., why won't the Revs' lackluster attack be able to break them down on Saturday)?
BG: The biggest weakness that they're going to have against the Revolution is Aurelien Collin, who felt a twinge in his hamstring against Montreal. He said he's good to go but Vermes isn't 100% on starting him. This will give the Revs one of two advantages. The first will be Collin starting, which means he'll be a bit slower and less aggressive because of the hamstring. This can allow the Revs forward to overpower Collin in the middle, provided they can get around Besler too.
The second possible advantage is that Collin won't be starting, which means Lawrence Olum will get the call. Olum is a solid defender but he's the third-string center back for a reason. He is definitely a level down from Collin, which could allow the Revs to get behind him and score.
TBM: And, as always, please give us a predicted starting XI and scoreline for Saturday's match.
BG: (4-3-3) Kronberg - Sinovic, Besler, Collin, Myers, Nagamura, Rosell, Feilhaber, Zizzo, Dwyer, Zusi
Score: 2-1 Sporting KC.