New England encountered some early season downtime last weekend following their week 2 victory over Colorado at Gillette Stadium on March 10. They conclude their interrupted two-match homestand this Saturday against geographical rivals New York City FC, a club many have called a title contender. And on cue, NYCFC’s campaign has started with a bang.
The club earned a decisive 2-0 triumph on the road against perennial playoff fixtures Sporting KC, followed by a solid 2-1 win over the visiting LA Galaxy. However, last weekend's 2-0 victory over Orlando City may have been the most impressive, occurring without the services of two starters — one by the name of David Villa. The 3-0 start to the season is easily the Blues' best ever in its short history.
Now in their fourth year of MLS existence, NYCFC has rapidly risen to prominence. Many believed they were headed to MLS Cup in 2017 before a late-season swoon (which included a win by the Revolution) left them in poor form heading into the playoffs. Still, they finished with the second-best record in the league behind eventual MLS champions Toronto FC before flaming out in the Eastern Conference semifinals against Columbus. Nonetheless, not only has their core remained generally intact, they have added pieces which many believe could be enough to challenge Toronto for Eastern Conference supremacy.
Long gone are the days of The Big Three when former Chelsea stalwart Frank Lampard, Italian great Andrea Pirlo, and the aforementioned Spanish hero David Villa graced Yankee Stadium. Lampard retired from professional football two seasons ago, and then a declining Pirlo followed him after last season. Only Villa remains, but the club has utilized its partnership with Premier League powerhouse Manchester City to build a deep and talented roster around him.
After sending both star youngster Jack Harrison and former US international Mix Diskerud across the pond to Man City, NYCFC went out and acquired one of the better young South American prospects in Paraguayan Jesus Medina. Replacing Harrison at right wing, he notched a goal and an assist in NYCFC’s opening win. Another less notable addition is Swedish defender of the year Anton Tinnerholm, who immediately upgraded the right back position. He scored his first MLS goal in the victory over LA. Although he missed the OCSC match with a minor knock, he is day-to-day and probably available for Saturday.
The presence of Villa notwithstanding, the strength of the squad probably lies in its midfield. Finnish international Alexander Ring has brought gritty backline protection at defensive mid. He is joined by Venezuelan international Yangel Herrera — on loan from NYCFC's trans-Atlantic cohorts — who has morphed from a d-mid into a box-to-box midfielder. The group is rounded out at number 10 by creative playmaker Maxi Moralez, a former Argentine national team regular and Serie A veteran who scored against the Lions. The trio, finally on the pitch together after a disjointed 2017 campaign with Pirlo, has been quite impressive in their ability to blanket the field and control the action. Even with Ring unavailable due to national team duty this weekend, the NYCFC midfield provides a formidable challenge to New England.
The Blues also added depth at nearly every position through both international signings and domestic moves. In short, the club is loaded for bear. Third-year manager Patrick Vieira typically employs a 4-3-3 with US international Sean Johnson (2 shutouts) between the pipes and David Villa in his customary center forward position.
Although possessing as potent a first-choice eleven as likely any team in the league, NYCFC will field a somewhat depleted lineup for the second straight week. Villa hasn't fully trained all week due to lingering calf strain issues and could possibly be held out of a match on turf. Along with Ring (Finland), Rodney Wallace — Villa's understudy at number 9 — has also been called up for international duty by Costa Rica, as has defender Ronald Matarrita. New England may be presented with a golden opportunity to get a result against a weakened top-tier squad.
The Revolution welcome back both center backs for this match, as both Antonio Delamea and Claude Dielna will return from one-game red card suspensions. Their makeshift backline performed well enough to escape with a 2-1 win over Colorado. Brandon Bye got his first MLS start at right back, with Andrew Farrell moving over to handle center back duties along with MLS veteran Jalil Anibaba. The only constant from week 1 was Gabriel Somi at left back, but he was replaced early in the match by Chris Tierney due to an apparent head injury. Somi has made steady progress in training and should be available for the match. It was Tierney’s stoppage-time goal following a free kick that proved to be the game-winner versus the Rapids.
Kelyn Rowe made the starting eleven for the first time this season, slotting in at right wing. Kristzian Nemeth saw his first minutes of the season, coming on as a late-game substitute, but he'll be unavailable Saturday due to international duty. Teal Bunbury replaced Juan Agudelo as a number 9, while Diego Fagundez slotted in the number 10 position. Once again, early preseason holdout Lee Nguyen did not make the 18-man game roster. It remains to be seen when and if he’ll see any game action in the near future, although he has recently been spotted at training.
The offense struggled against the short-handed Rapids in less than ideal weather conditions, registering only two shots on frame, and the Revs have scored only one goal this season from the run of play. One has to wonder how long first-year skipper Brad Friedel will continue with a 4-2-3-1 and/or his player selection, especially facing a tall task this Saturday against NYCFC.
This will be the tenth meeting between the clubs, with the Revs holding a slim 4-2-3 (W-D-L) series advantage. Interestingly, six of the nine previous matches have ended with one club having a player sent off (three for each). The teams split the season series in 2017, with each claiming a 2-1 home win and the third resulting in a 2-2 draw in New York.
How to Watch
Kickoff: 1:30 p.m. ET
Venue: Gillette Stadium, Foxboro, Mass.
TV: NBC Sports Boston (Boston), YES Network (New York)
Radio: 98.5 The Sports Hub (Boston), WNYE 91.5 FM
Steaming: MLS Live