It's only been three weeks since TFC and New England met at BMO Field, and much has changed since that time has passed -- Jerry Bengtson has come in for Revs, while Joao Plata and Nick Soolsma have been ejected in former Revs assistant coach Paul Mariner's ongoing remake of the team.
Ahead of Saturday's clash in Foxboro, I swapped questions and answers with the Bent Musket's Steve Stoehr on things TFC should be watching for...
John @ Waking The Red: The Revs are riding a five-game unbeaten string heading into the clash with TFC, including a win over the New York Red Bulls mid-week. Who have been the difference makers so far?
Steve @ The Bent Musket: An interesting tidbit concerning the unbeaten run is that the Revs have scored eight goals in those five games, and each goal has been scored by a different player. It's tough to settle on any one particular player who has contributed the most; Fernando Cardenas has two assists, Chris Tierney and Blake Brettschneider have both notched a goal and an assist, along with Benny Feilhaber and Kelyn Rowe. Really, though, I think I have to give the nod to a defender, despite the Revs' documented difficulties in that area.
Stephen McCarthy has been an absolute rock for most of this run. He was a little shaky in the first two matches (win over Chicago, draw against Columbus), but those were clean sheets nonetheless. Since then, while the rest of the defense has fallen apart and given up garbage goals around him, (McCarthy) has been imperious in defense. He's learned how to time a tackle, maintain his marking and positioning, and throw around his considerable 6'4" frame to great effect. More dramatic is the improvement in his distribution, where he has finally harnessed the passing talents that made him a top-level collegiate midfielder and applied them to the Revs new mantra of building out of the back. Honestly, Macca is probably the most exciting player on the roster right now in terms of form and potential.
John @ WTR: Jerry Bengston. How much or how little has he made a difference so far?
Steve @ TBM: Bengtson's literally been in town for a week, so honestly he hasn't made much of an impact at all. That said, he scored a goal on his debut that helped put the match against New York to rest last weekend, so it's not as though he's been absent, either. Jerry has created new hope and a sense that the offense isn't just Saer Sene and some nice passing, that there is another guy on the field who is a threat to score every game. I think he's going to do very well here.
John @ WTR: The effects of the grueling stretch in the schedule has created some interesting results league-wide. How are the Revs coping?
Steve @ TBM: The Revs are coping surprisingly well. Having been knocked out of the Open Cup relatively early, the Revs have been able to avoid a lot of the major fixture congestion issues that other clubs (like Toronto) are involved in now. New England doesn't have a lot of catching up to do, and (unless I'm reading the schedule wrong) there aren't too many midweek games left for the Revs. I believe there's maybe one or two remaining stretches where the Revs play extra games in a week, including next week where they're in Montreal on Wednesday, then Kansas City on Saturday. So far the boys have been handling everything.
John @ WTR: Who should TFC be looking out for on Saturday, and why should we be concerned?
Steve @ TBM: Look out for Jerry Bengtson, man. Unless he hurts himself between now and Saturday night, he's going to feature at some point, and he's likely to score. Ask New York. Jerry blends the best characteristics of a target striker and a slasher, striking an excellent balance of technical ability, hold-up play, and sheer goalscoring prowess. He walked into the match on Sunday as a substitute with only about three days of practice with his new teammates, and still you could sense the hunger in him. He had a fledgling understanding with his midfield then, but I think he's the type of player that will develop that chemistry quickly.
John @ WTR: What's your projected starting XI, and what's your scoreline prediction?
Steve @ TBM: Projecting a starting XI for the Revs has been tough all year, but I'll take a shot. With the whole team healthy, I expect Jay will trot out the 4-3-3 surprise he sprung on Seattle two weeks ago and fell into last weekend. The two big questions are 1) will Bengtson start; and 2) is Jay Heaps going to bench Matt Reis again after Bobby Shuttleworth's great outing against New York.
Reis; Chris Tierney, McCarthy, A.J. Soares, Kevin Alston; Clyde Simms, Shalrie Joseph, Feilhaber; Lee Nguyen, Bengtson, Sene
The Revs have a lot of trouble playing at BMO, but no such issues with the Reds in Foxboro. Toronto looks like a changed team, and changed for the better, but you're in our house now. 3-1 Revolution.
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And now, the boot goes onto the other foot...I step into Duncan's shoes and answer a few questions from Steve.
Steve @ TBM: It's only been three weeks or so since the Revs and the Reds last met. What's changed in the Great White North?
John @ WTR: If you consider the instillation of a new belief under Paul Mariner is considered a change, then I'd say that would be my pick. And I'm not saying it just for S&G, either -- the team came back from a goal down AND overcame a late equalizer to beat Vancouver, something that I've never seen in the six years I've watched this team -- it was truly a magical sight.
The players are buying into Mariner's system, and the results are following. Of course, this comes as Mariner is trimming off some of the excesses of the previous eras to create a team that he can work with, but I'll save that for the next question.
Steve @ TBM: Joao Plata is at Quito, Nick Soolsma is gone - it looks like Paul Mariner is trimming the dead weight in Toronto. What sort of summer acquisitions do you think he's getting ready for?
John @ WTR: Let's just say we've been screaming for a Centre Back ever since Day 1, and the glut of CBs we've ran through simply haven't done the job. Miguel Aceval has been an absolute joke, and with Adrian Cann barely available due to injury -- it's not surprising that much talk was dedicated to the chase of Alessandro Nesta. Regardless, we need a commanding centre back, period, full stop -- and Kevin McKenna is being touted, along with Carlos Bocanegra and Alessandro del Piero.
TFC will likely be hunting for another winger and a midfielder, to replace Plata and to provide a backup to Torsten Frings I see are two others -- plus, with the cap situation, there could be a goalkeeper change, but given Stefan Frei's history, that's probably nothing but talk.
Steve @ TBM: TFC is playing games (in all competitions) at a rate of roughly one every three or four days, and have been since the beginning of June. How much of an effect is this having on the team's form and morale, and what can Paul Mariner do to try and alleviate the strain until the fixture list opens a bit?
John @ WTR: Simply put, there needs to be more bench strength. While there's been talk of incoming players, the flow of outgoing ones means that there is little relief; and resting some players sometimes prove a little bit...well, a bad idea.
For example, Julian de Guzman was playing out of his mind for the first time since he's been in Toronto, and within a few days he was benched. Perhaps out of the fact that he was due to be sent away, but still, the bench strength is surprisingly thin, and other than being smart with substitutions and giving Academy players a chance, there's nothing really they can do until real relief arrives.
Steve @ TBM: Last time you gave us an under-the-radar player; this time, tell us who you think Toronto FC fears most on the pitch for New England.
John @ WTR: While its easy for me to say Jerry Bengtson since he's so dangerous, he's only played a game and the jury is likely still out on him for a while yet -- he could yet have a bad second effort. I'm going to say Benny Felihaber, since he was the one who caused the tying goal at BMO a few weeks back; he seems to be someone that we can't forget to mark, and if left to his own devices, could be someone who can wreak havoc, especially on a brittle backline like TFC's.
Steve @ TBM: Finally, let's have your projected starting XI and a scoreline prediction.
John @ WTR: Mariner seems to be someone who doesn't screw with what works, and with the bench strength low, I don't think we will see many chances. Jeremy Hall did come off early in the first half against Vancouver, which could be a bit of a concern -- and defence is perhaps one of the big things, and I'm sure the TFC coaching staff are loathe to use a dud like Aceval in any way. Therefore, I'm going to predict:
Milos Kocic; Ashtone Morgan, Doneil Henry, Richard Eckersley, Logan Emory; Eric Avila, Luis Silva, Frings, Terry Dunfield; Ryan Johnson, Danny Koevermans
The result? I'm going to say since the Revs decided to rain all over BMO with a late equalizer, TFC can and will return the favour with a 1-1 draw.