Saturday marks the third and final regular season meeting between the New England Revolution and the Columbus Crew. The Revs will be looking to avoid the sweep as the Crew have won the previous two encounters. Free kick specialist Federico Higuain is known commodity for the Black-and-Yellow, but who else should the Revolution be worried about? We spoke to Patrick Murphy of the Massive Report to get some insight ahead of Saturday's game.
TBM: Justin Meram and Ethan Finlay are two guys that haven't done much in MLS before this year. What has led to their success and can they sustain it?
MR: The success has come from the transition in styles between former head coach Robert Warzycha and current boss Gregg Berhalter. In the new system, the outside backs are expected to get forward and provide the width, while the "wingers" really pinch in and get involved in the attack in different ways. You still see Meram and Finlay crossing the ball from time to time, but Meram is often playing almost like a second forward when Federico Higuain vacates the space, and Finlay is consistently looking to get the ball in behind the defense with an eye for goal.
That is the biggest reason, but both of these players have come into their own a little bit this year as well. With Meram in his fourth year and Finlay in his third, it was time for them to produce at the professional level. Both came into the league with a goal scoring pedigree, but are finally producing in MLS this season.
TBM: All four of Federico Higuain's free kick goals in MLS have come against the Revs. Were the two goals that the Argentine put past Bobby Shuttleworth this year untouchable beauties or could the goalkeeper have done better?
MR: I went back and looked at both goals again and they both were as nice as I remember them. The first one, I'm not sure any MLS keeper stops and it would be hard to find a goalkeeper in the world that can make that save. Maybe Manuel Neuer with his large frame and incredible reaction time, but that was hit about as good as possible. On the second dead ball strike, Shuttleworth might have had a chance. The announcer on the replay even suggested he may have been a bit too far to his right and that was my thought as well. It was certainly a well taken free kick and difficult to save, but I think Bobby may have had a shot at it.
TBM: With only four games left in the season, the Crew's playoff spot is in limbo. How important is Saturday's game in regards to securing a postseason seat?
MR: The coaches and players have been saying since 10 games out that every game is a final. This has worked out well with the team's current run of form, but I doubt they would say anything different this week. This game is big for both teams because of how close everyone is in the standings and how important positioning could be come the playoffs. The Black and Gold need to continue to get points in order to keep distance from New York and Philadelphia and ideally move up the standings further.
If I were going to rank their last four matches in order of importance of results, I would say it goes home against the Philadelphia Union on the final day of the season, at the Union next weekend, at the New York Red Bulls, and then this game. So if there is a game to lose, it's probably this one but the team really can't afford a loss in any of these if they want to assure themselves a spot in the post season for the first time since 2011.
TBM: Who can we expect in the starting lineup on Saturday?
MR: Steve Clark; Eric Gehrig-Michael Parkhurst-Tyson Wahl-Waylon Francis; Ethan Finlay-Tony Tchani-Wil Trapp-Justin Meram; Federico Higuain; Aaron Schoenfeld
I could see Hector Jimenez starting for Gehrig at right back if Gehrig isn't fully fit after back spasms, but Berhalter said yesterday he was.
Be sure to following Patrick on Twitter (@_Pat_Murphy_) to keep up-to-date with the Crew.