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Grading the First Half of the Revs’ 2018 Season

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Here’s how we think the Revs performed in their first 16 matches

MLS: New York Red Bulls at New England Revolution Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

We’re just about midway through the Revolution’s 2018 season and in an international break, so we thought it’d be an excellent time to put the first half of their season in perspective. School’s out for summer, but we’re using the standard academic grading scheme to assess the Revs in the major aspects of their on-field performance.

Attacking: B

Thumbs Up: Penilla, Bunbury

Thumbs Down: Rowe, Nemeth

The Revs have used a high-press/high-line style with moderate success. It caught teams off-guard early on, but many opponents have adjusted and played over the top more recently, limiting New England’s chances of creating and converting turnovers into scoring opportunities. The Revs also like to counterattack whenever possible. Coupled with their press, they can be one of the more dangerous attacking teams in the league. In fact, their 27 goals scored are fourth in the Eastern Conference. However, when these approaches are neutralized by better organized and more disciplined teams, New England struggles. They have shown little creativity in the attack when forced to build from the back and break down teams.

Cristian Penilla has been a key cog for the Revs, combining well with his mates as well as creating his own chances. Teal Bunbury is having a career year, leading MLS with five game-winning goals. Diego Fagundez won the number ten playmaker job in preseason and is gradually becoming comfortable in that role. His 5 assists are tied for the team lead.

Expected to be a significant contributor, Kelyn Rowe has seemed out of sorts all year and has zero goals and just two assists in 12 appearances (7 starts). He seemed to be the logical number ten in Lee Nguyen’s absence, but that hasn’t been the case, as he’s played wider and deeper. He seems to be having difficulty adjusting to first-year manager Brad Friedel’s preferred style of play.

Likewise, second-year striker Krisztian Nemeth has started only three matches, providing an assist. Juan Agudelo worked his way into the eleven after beginning the season on the bench, and he’s contributed a goal and two assists. However, an injury caused him to regress.

Although he hasn’t really made an impact in LA yet, we’ll always wonder if Nguyen might’ve made a difference if given the chance.

Defending: C

Thumbs Up: Anibaba

Thumbs Down: Somi

New England allowed only eight goals in its first eight matches (including three shutouts), which was among the best in league. However, they’ve faltered lately, with 15 goals allowed in their last eight games, which equates to almost two per match.

The backs have had a hard time handling their high line responsibilities, with barely adequate closing speed and occasionally substandard one-on-one defending. Antonio Delamea earned a red card in the first match and only recently returned to his starting role. The captain, Claude Dielna — who also earned a red in week one — has struggled as well. Veteran Jalil Anibaba replaced Delamea in week two and hasn’t seen the bench since. He’s been their best defender, bringing energy and passion to the back line.

Newcomer Gabriel Somi, an effective part of the attack with two assists from the left back spot, has often been targeted by opponents for his lack of quality in the defensive end. Unfortunately, veteran left back Chris Tierney is lost for the season due to injury. With Delamea having returned to the eleven, Dielna has seen time on the left. Andrew Farrell has been solid if unspectacular, but he did score his first-ever professional goal.

MLS: Colorado Rapids at New England Revolution Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

Goalkeeping: A

Thumbs Up: Turner

Thumbs Down: none

Matt Turner has been a revelation. The former USL-loanee won the job in preseason and hasn’t looked back, supplanting veteran Brad Knighton and last year’s primary starter Cody Cropper. He’s turned heads league-wide, as he’s fifth in saves with 55, tied with former US international Nick Rimando. He’s also posted three shutouts, which is impressive considering the Revs’ less-than-stellar backline in front of him.

Knighton’s only appearance was in the Revs’ US Open Cup loss to USL-side Louisville City FC, in which in he allowed three goals. Cropper’s been injured and hasn’t been in the matchday roster all that much until recently.

Bench/Reserves: C

Agudelo started the season on the bench, earned several starts, and then got injured. He’s contributed a goal and two assists along the way and is now working himself back to form. Nemeth has been on the bench most of the season, but he finally cracked the eleven recently. He drew a late penalty vs Atlanta United FC to help the Revs earn a draw, then he added an assist in the Revs’ win over the Red Bulls. To varying degrees, Wilfried Zahibo, Scott Caldwell and Rowe have been occasional starters and role players off the bench. Aside from Zahibo’s three goals and four assists earlier in the season, none of their performances has been particularly noteworthy. Centerback Delamea found the bench after a week one red card and was sick for a couple weeks, but he may now be back in the starting fold.

Zachary Herivaux and Brian Wright have only made a couple appearances. Nicolas Samayoa had a chance to impress in the Open Cup and possibly earn some minutes in league action. He didn’t. Femi played in the Open Cup as well, but he hasn’t seen the MLS pitch, either. What’s quite telling for the reserves is that, following their poor showing in the US Open Cup, Friedel threw them under the bus.

Acquisitions: B

Thumbs Up: Penilla, Anibaba

Thumbs Down: Somi

Transfers: Pachuca-loanee Penilla has been gold. It’d be nice to find a way to make the loan permanent. Zahibo started well at defensive midfield, but he’s tailed off and has found the bench recently. Caicedo arrived late, but he hit the ground running and hasn’t stopped. He might not have completely understood his role on the field at first, but he had a strong performance on the wing against the Red Bulls and may finally be getting comfortable. Veteran Anibaba was on the bench in week one, started for the suspended Delamea in week two, and he hasn’t sat out since. Somi has nicely aided the attack in Friedel’s high-pressing system, but he’s fallen way short in his primary responsibility — defending.

Draft picks: Top selection Bye has made three starts and five substitute appearances, assisting on a goal. Mark Segbers found success on loan at USL’s Orange County SC and in the Open Cup, but he hasn’t seen the pitch in a league match yet. Samayoa underwhelmed in the Open Cup and was subbed off early, and he’s now been loaned out to USL-side Las Vegas Lights FC.

Coaching: B

Thumbs Up: Anton McElhone (Head of Fitness)

Thumbs Down: none

Friedel has certainly changed the culture and attitude in the New England locker room. The team has a never-say-die mentality. He’s instilled competition where players fight for minutes. He uses a playing style that tries to optimize the quality of the personnel hand he’s been dealt. The team fitness level and associated work rate is very high. He’s made some head-scratching lineup and roster decisions, chief among them the Lee Nguyen saga. He’s also rolled out some interesting formations, probably in the interest of experimentation. You can’t fault Friedel for trying. That being said, he and his staff will need to fix the defensive issues and try to come up with a Plan B offensively when the high-press/counterattack are neutralized. Otherwise, the playoffs may have to wait another year.

Are the grades about right? Feel free to share your thoughts in the Comments section below!