The New England Revolution host the Montreal Impact as both clubs are running a 3-game streak without losing a game. Both Eastern Conference foes tied their last MLS game and will be looking to make a statement on Sunday night.
1) Scoring a decent amount of goals (35) and conceding little (25), what happened to the leaky New England Revolution defense or at least its defensive schema?
I think two things happened. First, the unit is a year older. They have more experience now, especially in the form of both A.J. Soares and Stephen McCarthy. Also, the commitment of Chris Tierney to left back at the expense of the beloved-but-positionally-challenged Kevin Alston has definitely helped anchor that side of the line and also give it a bit of offensive bite, which requires opposing wingers to show them a little more respect.
Second, Jose Goncalves happened. I feel like I've had to explain this to every other blogger who follows this league, because they don't get it until their team plays against him: JoGo is a freaking beast. He's big, physical, and fast, but also smooth on the ball, very technical, a great passer, and a keen soccer mind. In short, he's the best defender in MLS bar none and I don't feel the least bit homerish when I say that. His influence can't be understated.
2) Kelyn Rowe is establishing himself as the clear winner of the 2012 MLS Draft, at least among the top 3. Between Darren Mattocks and Andrew Wenger, how has he evolved with the Revs?
Last year Kelyn showed flashes. He would have great substitute performances, but then fall flat as a starter. It was frustrating, but in the end he finished with three goals and five assists, which is hardly a poor haul for a midfielder, and a rookie at that. This year, the biggest catalyst for his evolution (other than experience) was probably the move to the middle. He was generally deployed wide last season, and that's a gross misuse of his talents. Kelyn likes to be in the middle, where he can choose to either pull the strings or make the penetrating runs. That's where he's dangerous, and it has showed all season long.
He's still got work to do, but nearly every aspect of his game has improved. His passing is pretty good, his movement is better, his decision-making is much more advanced than it was before, and he's an overall better player. I'm not positive, but he might have a chance at forcing his way into a crowded midfield picture for the US National Team in the next few years.
3) How is Andrew Farrell coming up and why is he still playing right back?
Farrell's not going to make the switch away from right back for us yet. We're too deep at center-back, and he still plays well enough as a right back to be an improvement over the alternatives. Frankly, he's at least an average MLS right back, and I think he's actually much better.
As for his play, I actually think he's regressing a little. He remains strong defensively - in fact, he may have improved his discipline in that area - but his passing and crossing is getting worse. I think it's more an issue of adapting to the full professional season after playing shortened collegiate seasons previously than anything else. His biggest flaws are his crossing ability (it's been horrendous all year) and his decision-making. He's a good dribbler and he knows it; the issue is that he often dribbles himself into trouble. If he would just pick his head up once in a while, he'd probably avoid that 50% of the time at least.
Farrell also has a tendency to give the ball away. The funny thing is, his passing numbers are still decent, but his giveaways tend to be glaring and obvious. I have full confidence that he'll clean it up.
4) The recurring theme for the Revolution has been youth and talent . How was Jay Heaps able to get and keep the young guns together?
Heaps is a players' coach, without a doubt. He's got that passion, that fire, and the pedigree to command anybody's respect, and I have nothing but full faith in his inspirational capabilities. What he's developed in the last two years is a young, close-knit group of players who all seem to genuinely enjoy each other's company on and off the pitch. That kind of chemistry is difficult to create, but once it's there, it can make teams exponentially better than their talent would otherwise dictate. Frankly, he's a likable guy, too, which also helps.
I worry about Heaps tactically, though. He's shown a lot of shortfalls in that area, and more worryingly, he makes the same mistakes. So do his players. That's not good. His - and Mike Burns' - work in building this unit, though, is nothing short of extraordinary for a young coach like him.
5) Projected Starting XI + Score
Projected XI (4-1-4-1/4-3-3, L to R): Matt Reis; Chris Tierney, Jose Goncalves, A.J. Soares, Andrew Farrell; Scott Caldwell; Diego Fagundez, Lee Nguyen, Kelyn Rowe, Chad Barrett; Dimitry Imbongo.
That's not quite the lineup I'd use, but it's close to what Heaps has been sending out. As for a score, I have too much respect for the Impact's talent to think we'll win at Gillette Stadium. However, I do think the Revs will squeak a 1-1 draw.