The New England Revolution is not very far from being a MLS powerhouse. Combining smart drafting, good international signings and consistency with its head coach, the Revs will be a big hurdle for the Montreal Impact
1) The Revolution are hot in the Eastern Conference and it seems that we should not be surprised. Are fans and media shocked at the Revs' progression in 2014?
Honestly that depends on who you ask. The Revs were preseason favorites for the playoffs this season, with many pundits saying they'd contend for the Eastern Conference crown and Grant Wahl (of all people) actually predicting them as dark horse MLS Cup candidates. The fans, on the other hand, were more or less cautiously optimistic. Personally, I was terrified, because I felt like the Revs had done nothing to address their existing weaknesses (striker depth, defensive midfield size and depth, width), and also didn't like-for-like replace Juan Agudelo. Teal Bunbury does not have the complete skillset that Agudelo does, and that was very worrisome to me.
The early matches bore out those fears, but now they've made adjustments and I couldn't be happier. The preseason pundits will be patting themselves on the back and the fans are jubilant, but I'm still cautious. There are one or two players who, if they go down injured, might torpedo the Revs good form and fortune. Here's to hoping for the best, though.
2) Is the Revolution's midfield the most offensive, attractive and talented midfield in MLS? Is Kobayashi a steal or is he thriving with a young dynamic squad?
If it's not the most, it's close. Looking around the league, the only team I can see off the top of my head that compares is Vancouver. Seriously, you have Lee Nguyen, Kelyn Rowe, Diego Fagundez, Teal Bunbury, Daigo Kobayashi, Steve Neumann, and Scott Caldwell with serious offensive or two-way chops, and then Andy Dorman protecting them with simple passing, physical play, and - oh, by the way - a nose for goal himself, and experience as an attacker. On their game, there is no team in the league that can cope with the Revs passing, movement, and sheer breaking speed. Every match in the last two months has been must-see.
As for Kobayashi, can the answer be both? He's making like $136k and has been a shining light and unsung hero in the midfield. Filling in for the injured Rowe, Daigo has brought craftiness and simplicity to the attacking third, and allowed Lee Nguyen to make this team totally his own. I think, too, that having all this young, livewire talent around him has allowed him to thrive, since Daigo really seems to enjoy facilitating the attack more than driving it or embodying it. All he has to do is get into good positions and play clean passes, and guys like Fagundez, Bunbury, and Mullins do the rest.
3) How has the defensive schema and mentality of the Revs changed from last year?
This is actually somewhat interesting. Last season, the defensive scheme was pretty constant. Goncalves helped keep the whole back line well-drilled and positioned, effectively screening Bobby Shuttleworth and Matt Reis, while either Dorman or Caldwell were expected to sit very deep and sweep up everything in front of the four defenders. It was very effective in the first half of the season, and still pretty effective in the second.
In 2014, Goncalves has been hurt for more than a few of the matches, and things have changed. While Jose was out, the defense turned into a high-pressure, high-risk machine. The back line flew into tackles and took themselves way out of position to close opponents down as early as possible. This isn't a sustainable system, but it worked for a number of matches. Now, with Goncalves back, the defense has returned to some level of stability. However, it is obvious that the high line and high pressure is a considered tactical decision, because the Revs are still keeping a very high line. With Jose's guidance, though, there's less chance of them being caught on the break, and against D.C. they were able to keep the game pinned into United's defensive half. Expect more of the same, although away from home the Revs may be a bit more cautious.
Lineup & Prediction
Starting XI: Bobby Shuttleworth; Chris Tierney, Jose Goncalves, A.J. Soares, Andrew Farrell; Andy Dorman; Diego Fagundez, Lee Nguyen, Kelyn Rowe, Teal Bunbury; Patrick Mullins
I'm seeing Rowe return to the starting XI because he went over thirty minutes last week and played well, despite the fact that Kobayashi has been great and it would mean shifting up a hot lineup. That said, it would be very easy to see Kobayashi remain the starter.
Five straight wins is awesome, and Montreal has not only been struggling, but you guys are coming off a midweek game. We've been dropping teams on tired legs lately, and I don't see that changing. 2-1 victory for the Revs.