It seems like just yesterday that the New England Revolution earned a last-gasp draw against Toronto FC at BMO Field. In fact it was only about three weeks ago, but who's counting? The Revs are going to welcome the Reds to Gillette Stadium on Saturday night with the hopes of winning big over the Eastern Conference basement dwellers.
New England has been steadily building confidence over the last month, running the last five matches unbeaten and taking New York to task last Sunday in a 2-0 victory. Toronto, meanwhile, is on a much-improved run of their own, including a daring 3-2 comeback victory over Vancouver at midweek, but they've been playing twice a week every week for over a month and that kind of fatigue has to be taking its toll.
To win here, the Revs just have to be themselves at home. Toronto is a team that is now playing a direct style under Paul Mariner, so they're going to try and use their size up front and speed out wide to cause havoc. The Revs, though, can pass the ball as well as any team in this league, especially at home, and as long as they stick to the usual gameplan they should be able to unlock a porous Toronto defense with ease.
TBM: It's only been three weeks or so since the Revs and the Reds last met. What's changed in the Great White North?
JL: If you consider the instillation of a new belief under Paul Mariner a change, then I'd say that would be my pick. And I'm not saying it just for S&G, either -- the team came back from a goal down AND overcame a late equalizer to beat Vancouver, something that I've never seen in the six years I've watched this team -- it was truly a magical sight.
The players are buying into Mariner's system, and the results are following. Of course, this comes as Mariner is trimming off some of the excesses of the previous eras to create a team that he can work with, but I'll save that for the next question.
TBM: Joao Plata is at Quito, Nick Soolsma is gone - it looks like Paul Mariner is trimming the dead weight in Toronto. What sort of summer acquisitions do you think he's getting ready for?
JL: Let's just say we've been screaming for a Centre Back ever since Day 1, and the glut of CBs we've ran through simply haven't done the job. Miguel Aceval has been an absolute joke, and with Adrian Cann barely available due to injury -- it's not surprising that much talk was dedicated to the chase of Alessandro Nesta. Regardless, we need a commanding centre back, period, full stop -- and Kevin McKenna is being touted, along with Carlos Bocanegra and Alessandro del Piero.
TFC will likely be hunting for another winger and a midfield, to replace Plata and to provide a backup to Torsten Frings I see are two others -- plus, with the cap situation, there could be a goalkeeper change, but given Stefan Frei's history, that's probably nothing but speculation.
TBM: TFC is playing games (in all competitions) at a rate of roughly one every three or four days, and have been since the beginning of June. How much of an effect is this having on the team's form and morale, and what can Paul Mariner do to try and alleviate the strain until the fixture list opens a bit?
JL: Simply put, there needs to be more bench strength. While there's been talk of incoming players, the flow of outgoing ones means that there is little relief; and resting some players sometimes prove a little bit...well, a bad idea.
For example, Julian de Guzman was playing out of his mind for the first time since he's been in Toronto, and within a few days he was benched. Perhaps out of the fact that he was due to be sent away, but still, the bench strength is surprisingly thin, and other than being smart with substitutions and giving Academy players a chance, there's nothing really they can do until real relief arrives.
TBM: Last time you gave us an under-the-radar player; this time, tell us who you think Toronto FC fears most on the pitch for New England.
JL: While its easy for me to say Jerry Bengtson since he's so dangerous, he's only played a game and the jury is likely still out on him for a while yet -- he could yet have a bad second effort. I'm going to say Benny Felihaber, since he was the one who caused the tying goal at BMO a few weeks back; he seems to be someone that we can't forget to mark, and if left to his own devices, could be someone who can wreak havoc, especially on a brittle backline like TFC's.
TBM: Finally, let's have your projected starting XI and a scoreline prediction.
JL: Mariner seems to be someone who doesn't screw with what works, and with the bench strength low, I don't think we will see many chances. Jeremy Hall did come off early in the first half against Vancouver, which could be a bit of a concern -- and defence is perhaps one of the big things, and I'm sure the TFC coaching staff are loathe to use a dud like Aceval in any way. Therefore, I'm going to predict:
Kocic; Morgan, Henry, Eckersley, Emory; Avila, Frings, Dunfield, Silva; Johnson, Koevermans
The result? I'm going to say since the Revs decided to rain all over BMO with a late equalizer, TFC will return the favour with a 1-1 draw.