The New England Revolution opened the 2018 season with a 2-0 loss to the Philadelphia Union. The game left many fans with questions and I’m here to provide some insight.
Question One: Brad Friedel’s line-up looked a bit different from ones we saw during Jay Heaps’s tenure. What stuck out the most from Saturday’s starting XI?
Friedel followed the same formation as Heaps, a 4-2-3-1. I didn’t see any surprises in the back four, with Delamea and Dielna staying at centerback, Farrell staying at right back, and Somi unsurprisingly replacing Tierney, who struggled last year. Everyone expected Zahibo to join Caldwell at defensive midfield.
So the main changes came in the offensive set-up. Putting his strong new acquisition, Christian Penilla, at left wing was a slam-dunk, and Bunbury, with good speed and a great work ethic, is a natural starter at right wing. The biggest question comes with who your offensive mid/striker pair are going to be. Given the options, I’d probably have come to the same decision as Friedel did – Agudelo at striker (he’s simply more dangerous than Nemeth), Fagundez at offensive mid, with Nemeth and Kelyn Rowe as a back-up pairing.
I wonder if the team would do better with a 4-4-2, giving Agudelo and Nemeth a chance to double the offensive threat by being on the field together. Unfortunately, they still haven’t recovered from losing Jermaine Jones.
With Cody Cropper not even on the sub list due to illness, I was a bit surprised that Matt Turner was chosen over the more experienced Brad Knighton.
Matt has got to improve his goal kicks, as he had difficulty getting the ball past midfield. Goal kicking is an integral part of keeper distribution.
Question Two: The Revs looked to be employing the high press. What did you think of it?
The high press, deployed effectively, can be a devastating arrow in a team’s tactical quiver. I have watched several FA cup games recently, and it is amazing how hard a time lower-level teams can give the hot shots through a well-coordinated high press by as many as six players. Important points about the high press: (a) It absolutely has to be a group effort, involving a bare minimum of four pressers; and (b) teams need to recognize when to use the press and when not to. It takes too much energy to be used continually. For it to succeed, players have to be in top shape and have both a passion for the hard work it entails and the patience to keep at it even when a good steal rate is only 1 in 4.
If anybody saw Wigan stymie Manchester City, or Rochdale’s first match against the Spurs, you would see what I mean.
The Revs tried, but to me they looked scattered and not as coordinated as they should be. I applaud their attempt, but I’d say they need a lot of practice to improve.
Question Three: Let’s talk about the red cards. Do you think they were legitimate?
Both Toni Delamea’s and Claude Dielna’s red cards were totally deserved, as both players halted the advance of an opposing player by holding him back with their arms. This kind of foul is as flagrant and careless as dangerous, studs-up sliding tackles. Delamea clearly denied a scoring chance, and Dielna seemed almost to be daring the ref to give him a second yellow (his first was on a body block). Did he, unaccountably, think it was OK to use his arms whenever he wanted to? The ref kept his card in his pocket at least twice on careless tackles or grabs but finally gave up and red-carded him after he strong-armed the Union second stringer, Cory Burke.
I have never heard Brad Feldman so critical of a player after a red card, and deservedly so.
Question Four: Friedel chose to take out Christian Penilla after the red card. What did you think of that decision?
Taking out Christian Penilla and putting in centerback Jalil Anibaba was a choice Friedel made for defensive purposes, but I was frankly shocked that he picked Penilla – arguably the best player on the team – to leave the field. He might have done better to save the substitution, moving Farrell to centerback (he’s played there before) and Teal Bunbury to right back, where he could showcase his talents for running up and down a sideline.
This first step would have left his two best scoring prospects on the field (Penilla and Agudelo), while saving three substitution options for use later in the game.
Turning to serious Monday-morning quarterbacking: In the 55th minute I might have replaced Agudelo with the more experienced Nemeth, subbed Rowe in for Zahibo but moved him to right wing (gambling that Caldwell could defend effectively as a lone defensive midfielder), where his ability to cross the ball would sharpen the Revs’ offensive thrust. I would have saved the last sub in case someone got hurt or ran out of gas – which indeed happened, as Fagundez flagged around the 75th minute. At that point I would have subbed Bye in at right back, moved Rowe to center mid, and moved Bunbury up to right wing.
The overall goal would have been to have the quartet of Penilla, Nemeth, Rowe, and Bunbury attacking the goal hard for the last 15 minutes, with luck only one goal down. Given that the Union don’t have the strongest back four in the league, the Revs could have made life difficult for the them under those circumstances.
Question 5: What do the Revolution do next week with their two starting centerbacks serving a suspension?
Probably the most obvious plan would be to pair Farrell with Jalil Anibaba at the centerback slots, with Bye filling in at right back, and Somi at left.
A longer shot, but appealing in some ways: Teal Bunbury strikes me as having the physical ability, the soccer sense, and the maturity to be an effective centerback. I would train him all week to see if this was a viable possibility. If it works out, put Farrell back at right. If not, revert to the more expected option.
I don’t know anything about the playing abilities of centerback Nicolas Samayoa, but there are obviously other scenarios that would include him.