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Revolution vs. Minnesota United: storylines to follow in week four

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Can the Loons attack thrive without Kevin Molino? That, and four other headlines to track.

MLS: Minnesota United FC at Colorado Rapids Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The Revolution and Minnesota United have both endured a lackluster start to the 2017 season. The Loons conceded 13 goals in its first three outings, but earned a result against the Colorado Rapids, one of the league’s premier clubs, last weekend. The Revs, meanwhile, opened the season with two close matches but have yet to earn a point.

As both clubs vie for win number one, keep an eye on these five storylines:

1. Can the Revolution expose a shorthanded Minnesota back line?

Suspensions and international call-ups ravaged the Loons defense last week, claiming starters Justin Davis (red card) and Francisco Calvo (international call-up to Costa Rica). Even with these two defenders in the Starting XI, the Loons have conceded an average of 4.3 goals per match in 2017, by far the highest rate in MLS.

A tactical change helped slow the bleeding last week against the Rapids, though Head Coach Adrian Heath will have his work cut out for him on Saturday without Davis and Calvo. Can NASL holdover Kevin Venegas and Norway International Vadim Demidov hold down the fort? Or will the Revolution run rampant on this patched-up back line?

2. How much will the Loons miss Kevin Molino?

The Trinidadian midfielder shipped off for World Cup qualifiers last week and will not join Minnesota United in Foxboro. With two tallies on the season, Molino has already scored more goals than than the entire Revolution roster in 2017.

How will Minnesota fill the void? With regular starter Johan Venegas also away on international duty, Heath will likely turn to Miguel Ibarra, who earned his first start of the season last weekend. Justin Gatt serves as a dark-horse option. Either way, Heath will have a difficult time reproducing Molino’s explosiveness and ability to create off the dribble.

3. Will the Revolution attack finally click?

Often a topic of conversation, the Revolution attack has yet to find a rhythm in 2017. The club knocked on the door early on in Saturday’s loss to FC Dallas, but failed to score from the run of play. In the second half, the Revs struggled to create chances.

It’s worth noting that both Revolution losses came on the road against top-tier defensive clubs. That’s not an excuse for looking out of sync, though the quality of these opponents has undoubtedly played a role in the attack’s slow start.

Against a less-threatening-but-still-dangerous Minnesota side, the Revs will need to begin connecting on final passes. Whether that’s Diego Fagundez cutting inside and finding Lee Nguyen on a run at goal or Chris Tierney putting a cross on Kei Kamara’s head, the team needs to show more quality in the final third. Can it get started against Minnesota United?

4. Will Adrian Heath stick with a 4-2-3-1 formation?

Following a combined 11-2 thumping at the hands of Atlanta United and the Portland Timbers, Heath abandoned his 4-1-4-1 formation in favor of a 4-2-3-1, an arrangement he deployed for stretches of his team’s loss to the Timbers. The switch paid dividends, as the Loons drew with the Colorado Rapids even after losing Davis to a red card.

Will Heath stick to his newly-adopted 4-2-3-1? If he does, look for Mohammed Saeid to join Collen Warner in the defensive midfield, with Ibarra, Ibson and Bashkim Kadrii filling out the midfield five.

5. How will Revolution supporters greet Bobby Shuttleworth?

After making 131 starts for the Revolution, Shuttleworth will return to Foxboro as a Loon. The veteran keeper should earn a start in place of John Alvbage, who took a cleat to the knee in Minnesota’s loss to Atlanta United. Will Revolution supporters embrace Shuttleworth as family?

Revs forward Femi Hollinger-Janzen will find himself in a similar position when he reunites with his former Minnesota United teammates. The Indiana grad admitted that he built strong relationships during his eight-week stint with the club, so expect him to share a little love during pre-game warmups.