It's a short turnaround for the New England Revolution as they hop a quick flight to the Midwest for a Wednesday night showdown with Sporting Kansas City. We spoke with Cody Bradley of The Blue Testament, SB Nation's Sporting KC blog.
TBM: After years in the Eastern Conference, Sporting KC got bumped to the West for the 2015 season. In at least the last half-decade or so, the West has by and large been considered far more talented and competitive than the East. How's life on the other coast, and would you agree that is a tougher conference?
CB: Well that's difficult to say so far actually. Ten games into the season, five have been against the East and another against Houston (who moved with us). Also much like past seasons... cough cough... success in that conference has continued with 11 of the team's 14 points won there. Unfortunately that of course means the Conference games have not been kind to Sporting. So yes, I have to agree the West is a tougher conference! But not by much! Despite the struggles so far, SKC Nation is definitely happy to have two games with Seattle and another go at RSL and LA this season.
TBM: Much is being made of a "shift" in philosophy for KC, away from the usual Peter Vermes 4-3-3 high press and into something different. Do you see a change in the way Sporting plays, and is it positive for the club?
CB: With several versatile off season acquisitions like Bernardo Anor and Krisztian Nemeth, Vermes did flirt the idea of trying out new formations. But even in the preseason we didn't see much of a shift, and that has continued all season. Nemeth is scoring goals and looking great, but Anor hasn't worked out like PV hoped apparently. He was playing with first team in preseason and after starting the first game, we've barely seen him. That situation and more injury woes may both have played a role in sticking with the trusty 4-3-3. Which is probably for the best because despite the troubles, Sporting KC are in a playoff spot and within striking distance of the top.
TBM: Benny Feilhaber is...well, he's not a fan favorite here in New England. He spent two seasons here and underachieved, especially in that second season. Now, he's putting together an early campaign that's worthy of MVP conversation in Kansas City. What has changed or clicked for him that's bringing him into this kind of blistering form?
CB: It took quite a transformation! One that lasted his entire first season here and inspired the idea of "Sporting Fit". Vermes has shown time and time again he does not mess around. He will bench anyone not performing without hesitation, as we've seen with Luis Marin this season. In that beautiful 2013 season it worked perfectly. He benched DP Claudio Bieler for Dom Dwyer who set the franchise single scoring record a year later. Benny started at the beginning of that season before seeing himself be an unused substitute on the bench several times. In Vermes' system, he was required to have more defensive responsibilities than he was used to. To get on the field, Feilhaber had to become a box to box player. He didn't even start all the way into the playoffs that year!
For me, this was the exact moment it clicked. What clicked exactly, is that he realized if he bought into the PV system, good things follow. And maybe he realized Peter could actually help him become a better. From that moment on, Benny Feilhaber has been absolutely incredible. He is a different player. He does everything, all over the field. DUDE PLAYED CENTERBACK FOR A MINUTE YOU GUYS. He has figured out he can create from anywhere on the field, and found a great instinct for when to get himself forward and when he needs to defend. The season he is putting together is most definitely deserving of MVP talk. If not for Dwyer missing some sitters and being called offside, he could be running away with it.
TBM: Please give us an under-the-radar player Revs fans should watch out for in this match.
CB: No question... Jacob Peterson. He is a fan favorite, a player favorite, and possibly Peter Vermes' favorite human being. Jacob Peterson is The Answer. I mean that just as it sounds and also in that it is his nickname. He will play any position asked of him, and the man will sacrifice his body (and any body or object in his vicinity) to do his job. Although he may not be the guy you want starting every single game if you are to compete for titles, he is one of those guys you absolutely must have on the team if you want to win titles.
Graham Zusi has been sidelined since the last game with a concussion and it looks like SKC will be without his services again on Wednesday night. Keep an eye on Peterson because he will do something interesting at some point! He'll get bloody somehow, or play an awkwardly effective role in a goal, or if it gets chippy... you could see him yell at someone with every curse word every invented.
TBM: Finally, let's have your projected starting XI and a scoreline prediction.
CB: Tim Melia, Amadou Dia, Kevin Ellis, Matt Besler, Jalil Anibaba; Paulo Nagamura, Soni Mustivar, Benny Feilhaber; Jacob Peterson, Dom Dwyer, Krisztian Nemeth
Dwyer finds his form and gets the brace! Sporting KC 3-2 NE Revolution.