Before Saturday's game with New England, I swapped questions with Steve Stoehr of SB Nation's excellent Revs blog The Bent Musket. The obvious question was to get an opinion on Paul Mariner, given it's his time with New England that stands out on his resumé. But I asked that 'if it all goes wrong with Aron Winter' question last season, check out his answer then, it's on the ambivalent side. This time round, we discussed what's inspired their turnaround, how Kelyn Rowe is playing so far, and just where the goals might come from aside from Saer Sene (please let it be Mads Junker, please let it be Mads Junker. best name ever.). Also after the jump, I answer his predictably "dude, what the hell's going on up there?" line of questioning. So, New England, How you doin'?
Waking The Red: After a rough season saw the end of Steve Nicol, you're not exactly setting the world on fire, but things definitely seem to have improved under Jay Heaps. What are the expectations for his first year, and (help us out here, we'll try anything) what's been the key to the steady improvement?
The Bent Musket: I think the minimum expectations this season are to be in playoff contention. Not just mathematically, either - we want to see the Revolution with a real shot at the playoffs come season's end. We've already equaled last season's win total, so most of us fans are already happy.
As far as the key to steady improvement, I think it's just been the new blood and new team structure. There's a camaraderie in this squad that's been lacking the last couple of seasons, and the fire and intensity that Jay Heaps brings to the table cannot be underestimated. It's not the same situation as at TFC, where you guys REALLY need some sense of stability and hope. In New England, stability had become stagnation, and change was the real answer.
WTR: Quite a few people predicted TFC might end up with Kelyn Rowe in the draft this year, but New England snapped him up one spot ahead of us. How's Rowe looked so far?
TBM: Rowe has been encouraging and, at times, exciting. He's obviously got ability on the ball, can pass well, and has a bit of flair that the Revs, and indeed the league, have been sorely lacking. The real issue with him is that he's still young, and he still needs to work on his decision-making. Too often he doesn't pick his head up, or doesn't pass, or takes the speculative shot when he has other options. That will come with time, though, and so far he's been a great pickup.
WTR: Aside from Saer Sene with 7 already, no-one really seems to be scoring regularly for the Revs. Can secondary scoring come from within the current squad, or will Heaps be looking for reinforcements in the summer?
TBM: I think the Revs have the players to augment Sene's scoring. Lee Nguyen, Kelyn Rowe, Benny Feilhaber, and a couple other guys have more than enough quality to get close to 10 goals. However, that won't likely stop the Revolution brain trust from searching for another goalscorer, likely another forward. Recently, a couple of strikers have been in on trial, including Mads Junker, a Danish international who just moved to Belgium instead of MLS. I don't think anyone in particular is on the radar yet, but Heaps and Burns are definitely looking.
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TBM: This season has been bad. How much of a surprise was it to have such an awful start, especially after last season ended in a somewhat promising manner? And was it really Aron Winter's fault?
WTR: It is definitely a surprise, especially after the CCL victory over L.A , who we all thought at the time were a really good team, to kick off the season, which really raised hopes.. Having said that though, most people recognised that the TFC that ended last season was still a very fragile thing and needed some vital reinforcements to be competitive. The primary need was at Centre Back, and it seemed we'd improved with the additions of Ecuadorian international Geovanny Caicedo and Chilean international Miguel Aceval. There are no guarantees but surely one of them would be an improvement. They weren't, at all, and so it was back to square one there. Also, Torsten Frings and Danny Koevermans both got injuries that stopped them from really getting going, and just like that, the spine of the side was not only not strengthened, but dramatically weakened, and we were never a good enough side to withstand that. Joao Plata and Richard Eckersley have both taken a step back, and there's very few players that have actually improved.
Was it really Aron Winter's fault? Yes and no, The squad just wasn't good enough to withstand all the early injuries and disappointments, so there was only so much he would have been able to do. He obviously had a hand in building the squad though, (as did Paul Mariner, who judging by statements he's made seemed to be on a very different page than Winter, which can't have helped things), and didn't really help himself out by seeming incapable of successfully adapting his tactics to the players at his disposal. In the end he looked like just another big name foreign coach who couldn't quite adapt to the peculiarites of MLS.
TBM: I'm a huge Danny Koevermans fan, and I was really excited to see him make the MLS switch last season. It seems like he hasn't come out of the gate firing on all cylinders like last year, but if the Houston match is any indication, he'll get there soon. How important is it to the Reds that Koevermans be fully fit and scoring goals like he can?
WTR: It will be hugely important. Ryan Johnson is a good player who has given his all this year, but lethal finishing really isn't his strongpoint, so we missed Koevermans' goals. The Houston game was very encouraging as both goals were like classic 2011 season Koevermans, clever movement to make space in the box and 1 touch to finish off a cross into the box. The fact that those were only his 4th and 5th goals of the season is frustrating as it seems like he was never quite fully fit, even before the injury that caused him to miss a few games. He's now got 4 goals in the last 4 league games so hopefully this can be the start of a run for him similar to what he did last year, which would definitely help us as secondary scoring has continued to be a problem. How he reacts to the new 4-4-2 system will go a long way in determining how successful it is. Whatever happens, he's got himself a permanent place in TFC folklore with his 'worst team in the world'interview.
TBM: The question I'm sure everyone is asking - how do the arrests of Luis Silva, Miguel Aceval, and Nick Soolsma affect this team going forward? Do they have a future at TFC?
WTR: There's very little details that's come out about the circumstances of the arrest, so I'm wary of saying too much, but at the very least, it's an extra black mark the club didn't need. It's nowhere near as embarrassing as 1-1-9 is and plenty of people in football, sports, and the world in general have done much worse, so I don't think it will affect the club too much in the long term. Most fans seemed to see it as a chance to laugh than something to get outraged about. As for their own careers with TFC, well I think Aceval was already marked down as a failure to be shipped out at the earliest possible moment by most people so this will just make that decision a bit easier. Silva is a highly touted rookie, 4th pick overall this year, and though he hasn't really produced as people would have hoped so far this year, he's still seen as part of the club going forward, he'll be alright. As for Soolsma, I really like him but his season hasn't quite got going, and I don't get the impression he's a favourite of Paul Mariner, but hopefully he'll get another chance.
TBM: Give us an under-the-radar player Revolution fans should watch out for in this match.
WTR: Weird as it sounds I'm going to say Julian de Guzman. Yes he's a DP, but he really hasn't been any kind of consistent success in his time in MLS, so few people really expect him to make a difference these days. Lately though, he has looked very good, with both Canada and Toronto, a fact emphasized when he was subbed off against Houston on Wednesday when we went from looking competent by TFC standards and as if we could hold on to the lead, to a team that couldn't string a pass together to get the ball out of defence, thus inviting wave after wave of attack. Still nowhere near worth his price tag of course, and for the love of god please stop with the shots from outside the box, but he's really contributing a lot in recent games.
TBM: Finally, let's get your projected starting XI and a scoreline prediction.
WTR: Torsten Frings and Milos Kocic both seemed to pick up injuries at the end of Wednesday's game, but presuming they're ok, I'll go with the same lineup that started that game and gave Houston all they could handle until late on. Milos Kocic; (L to R) Ashtone Morgan, Doneil Henry, Richard Eckersley, Jeremy Hall; Julian de Guzman, Torsten Frings, Terry Dunfield, Eric Avila; Danny Koevermans, Ryan Johnson.
Prediction: We're undermanned and hopeless at the back, but look like we're getting going up front, I'll go with what seems to be the two teams' historic favourite score at BMO Field, 2-2.
Thanks Steve, and best of luck for the rest of the season.