The New England Revolution face off again versus the Columbus Crew, this time from the friendly confines of Gillette Stadium after a 2-2 draw last month at MAPFRE Stadium.
Columbus holds a four point lead on the Revs in the Eastern Conference standings, though the Crew have played two extra games in the first third of the season. New England’s stretch of home game continues as they play their seventh home game out of the first eleven to start the year.
A win today would go a long way to solidify the Revs’ status as an early playoff contender in the East, as New England is currently six points clear of Chicago and Philadelphia above the red line.
But the Crew have been in stellar form lately, boasting a shutout streak spanning three and a half games. We chat as always with out good friend Patrick Murphy of Massive Report and be sure to head over to their site to read my answers to their questions.
TBM: So Columbus started with four games unbeaten, then lost three in a row, and are now on a five match unbeaten streak dating back to the 2-2 draw with the Revs. I am all too familiar with this kind of form being a Revs fan, but explain how the Crew have pulled off this run of results in 2018.
PM: It was a strange start to the season for sure. Wins over Toronto FC, the Montreal Impact and D.C. United and a tied against the Philadelphia Union had fans feeling good about the start of the year, but there were always signs it wasn’t as good as things appeared. The win at Toronto was in the middle of their Champions League run, Montreal almost was a home tie and United is, well, United. But then the three-game losing streak included dominating performances over the Chicago Fire and D.C. on the road. It was very confusing.
I think it took a while for the Black & Gold to get the offense figured out with Ola Kamara and Justin Meram gone and Gyasi Zardes getting indigrated. Meanwhile, the defense was playing well. Last week against the Fire, the offense seemed to come alive with three goals, but we’ll see this weekend if that is consistent. This next stretch of games will tell a lot about this team.
TBM: The Crew have only allowed 10 goals all season, on this current unbeaten streak they’ve pitched three straight shutouts, and haven’t allowed a goal in seven halves of play with San Jose notching one a the death of the first half a month ago...so how did the Revs score two goals against you and what adjustments have you seen Columbus make since that game.
PM: I think there are a couple of things. First, I think the two goals New England scored were good goals. The first one was just a great finish from Teal Bunbury and the second was a good play by Juan Agudelo to setup Crisitan Penilla. I also think Zack Steffen was going through a rough stretch where he let in some easy finishes. Against both the Fire and United before that, Crew SC allowed only one shot on goal in both games. Both went in.
I think the biggest thing this year is just the chemistry between the backline. That group is now pretty much in its second year and thus playing better together. Add in 19-year-old Milton Valenzuela, who is a very solid defender, and the defensive group is much improved.
TBM: Gyasi Zardes is still scoring...but can he do it on a Smarch day in New England? Eight goals on the season for Zardes but seven of them are at home. How worried should the rest of the league be if he starts scoring all the time?
PM: I think MLS needs to learn that a competent striker in a Gregg Berhalter system is going to score goals. Kei Kamara, Ola and Zardes are all evidence of that, with Gyasi with being a good test to start the year. So far, he’s proving the system works. As for him scoring goals on the road, I think it will happen. As the season continues and he becomes more and more comfortable with his teammates, I think the road goals are coming. Maybe this weekend?
Harrison Afful-Jonathan Mensah-Lalas Abubakar-Milton Valenzuela
Niko Hansen-Wil Trapp-Artur-Mike Grella
I don’t know how to project this team on the road... so I’ll say 1-1.