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How You Doin'? New England Revolution: Take Two

In advance of the second meeting between Toronto FC and the New England Revolution I exchanged questions with Steve Soehr from the excellent Revs blog; The Bent Musket. I asked about that stingy defense, getting along without Agudelo and of course, The Chad.

They look so happy; probably just found out that they're playing TFC this weekend.
They look so happy; probably just found out that they're playing TFC this weekend.

Just when TFC were starting to gain a little momentum they've got to head down to Bahstan to take on the Revolution; winners of their last two games (on the road of course) and looking to continue on where they left off back in May when they beat Toronto 2-0 on the strength of goals by Juan Agudelo and Diego Fagundez. So, New England, How you doin'?

Waking The Red: You guys have been a bit up and down this season, but not only are you holding onto one of the final playoff spots you're coming off of two huge road wins. Is this a start of a push to move up the standings and get past the fringes of playoff positioning?

The Bent Musket: I've come to realize that the Revs have a bit of an issue with what I like to call "the thin red line," otherwise known as that dividing line between playoff spots and non-playoff spots in the conference standings. Last season they flirted with it but never got beyond sixth place before completely imploding over the summer. This season it looked like they were going to do the same thing, dropping results to Colorado and Houston when they had a chance to take a firm hold of fifth place.

Of course, then they went ahead and won two matches on the road and grabbed fifth anyway. That in and of itself is encouraging, and marks the first time the Revs have been in a playoff spot this late in the season in...well, I think since 2009. It really could be the beginning of something great this season, though as long as the Revs stay right in it until the bitter end, I'll be happy. They have the defense, and they've been playing with the offensive potency. The Revs could very well make the playoffs this season.

WTR: It seems that the Revs' greatest strength this year is the defense. In fact you're the league's stingiest D letting in only 19 goals - in an appalling bit of symmetry that's the exact number of goals that TFC have scored - other than wunderkind Andrew Farrell (we're not jealous, really), what's been the biggest factor in holding off opposition scorers?

TBM: Jose Goncalves. There isn't much else to say. He's easily the best defender in MLS this season, and probably the most egregious all-star snub in sports history. Having him on the pitch not only puts a world-class defender in the back line, but it makes everyone around him in defense and in deep midfield better.

Bobby Shuttleworth is also having a career year. He's shown some weakness on long shots, but otherwise I don't know if you'll find a better 'keeper in MLS for 2013. He was another big snub...there was no reason to have Raul Fernandez in the all-star team over him. Together this unit has just become much harder to break down, and even when they are, they have a good goalkeeper and an intelligent defensive mind to bail them out.

WTR: Juan Agudelo has played a big part for you this year. However, he's been little used or out injured recently and the team seems to be adjusting and producing just fine without him. As it appears he's unlikely to stay past this season, is this a good sign of future things to come? And feel free to rhapsodize about Diego Fagundez in your answer (seriously, we're not jealous!).

TBM: Juan Agudelo just takes this team's offense to another level entirely. I can't quite tell you why - he's a good finisher and he's strong, but his off-the-ball movement isn't exactly awe-inspiring - but when he's on the field I would challenge any defense in the league to try to keep the Revs off the scoreboard.

You're right, though, he's been out for a few weeks, and the Revs are still scoring. While Diego Fagundez is in a class by himself, certainly, he's not the only reason. It really comes down to having a glut of attacking talent on the pitch that's beginning to work well together. Diego and Saer Sene have a great understanding, and Saer's one of the most dangerous forwards in MLS. Kelyn Rowe's maturity and decision-making has grown by leaps and bounds since being moved inside, and Lee Nguyen continues to be a solid playmaker.

Up top, probably the most important development has been the emergence of Dimitry Imbongo. He's not on Agudelo's level, but his raw strength and ever-improving finishing skill has meant that the striker position has not been a black hole since Juan got hurt. Imbongo has a habit of "introducing himself" to defenders in each match, and he usually picks one in particular to be a sparring partner. No one in a red shirt will enjoy facing him.

WTR: I'd be remiss if I didn't at least ask about Chad Barrett - after spending the first couple of months pretty much nailed to the bench he's seen a bit of action recently. Is this just more about Jay Heaps making good use of his subs bench or could there be a resurgence for "The Chad"?

TBM: It's tough to say, but I think Heaps is just making good use of depth. With Agudelo hurt, no one was quite sure who would get the nod at striker, and Chad was the early favorite given how efficiently he's produced in his time on the pitch. However, Dimitry Imbongo appears to be the favored forward out of what's left, leaving Barrett to get substitute minutes as a winger of late. For what this team needs from him, Barrett is more than adequate, but I doubt we'll see him reinvigorate his career here in New England.

WTR: What's your projected starting XI and score?

TBM: Heaps has thrown out some weird lineups, but I'd guess this: Shuttleworth; Tierney, Goncalves, McCarthy, Farrell; Caldwell; Fagundez, Rowe, Nguyen, Sene; Imbongo

Scoreline I'd put at an even 2-0. It does appear to be our favored victory score.

Thanks for the chat Steve. Make sure that you head over to The Bent Musket for my answers to Steve's questions and all the news about the Revs that you may (or may not) want to know.