How much of a hot mess is the Eastern Conference at the moment?
On Friday, we saw the Fire beat Sporting K.C. 1-0 at Toyota Park. It was a classic underdog tale that made even more compelling by the fact that the very same Fire XI only days before lost to a Revolution side that was throttled by Sporting K.C. the week before that. Think about that. Mind…blown.
While that result offered hope to everyone in the conference except for D.C. and Toronto (who, to no one’s surprise, managed to settle for a 1-1 handshake on Saturday), we saw even more silliness unfold a day after Friday’s upset.
On Saturday, another match overflowing with playoff implacation appeared before our eyes. With scores of eyes trained on Saputo Stadium, the Impact and Dynamo both needed to make a statement. Predictably, another unpredictable scoreline came to pass.
Although the Impact were clear favorites, it was surprising to the very same Dynamo who entered the game unbeaten in five of their last six get ravaged for five goals. Five goals scored on one of the best defenses in the east. And just like that, the Impact on top of the table, with Sporting K.C. suddenly mired in a third-place tie with New York (who also play on Sunday).
As if all this momentum-changing and spot-swapping was enough to whet your appetite, another crucial conference clash awaits on Sunday. And, wouldn’t you know, the local XI are right at the center of it.
The fourth-place Union come to Foxborough looking to extend their recent form, a form that has seen them pick up four clean sheets in their last five. Although they’ve been consistent throughout the season, one need only look at a 2-1 loss to the Fire three weeks ago to remind us that anything goes in the east.
Then there’s the suddenly-seventh place Revolution, who come into the contest not only in search of a second straight win, but a ticket to the fifth and final playoff spot that the Dynamo left on the table after Saturday’s embarrassing performance.
Ah, the Eastern Conference. Much like New England weather, if you don’t like the way it looks right now, just wait a few minutes.
While you wait, feel free to take a look at the following crop of questions. And who knows? Maybe the table will change again by the time you’re finished.
1. How much of Charlie Davies will we see this week? We got our first glimpse of Davies last week, when he came on for Chad Barrett in the 79th minute substitute. While his first touch may have let him down, it was obvious that he pumped energy into the attack during the waning minutes. With his debut out of the way, it wouldn’t be all that unreasonable to assume that the former BC Eagle is ready for more minutes. Conservatively, Davies is probably in line to be the first sub off the bench is Sunday’s game unfolds in similar fashion to last weekend’s against Chicago. Then again, with Saer Sene suspended (but not his bobblehead, thankfully), paired with a strong week of practice, it would only be mildly surprising to see Davies get the start on the right. Fitness shouldn’t be a concern, and if Davies can muster up some of the electricity he displayed last weekend, it may prove to be a wise move.
2. What must the Revolution be especially wary of? Although Heaps mentioned that the Union can string together wins in a myriad of manners, the Revolution have to be especially aware of attacking set pieces on Sunday. Bold it, use ALL CAPS, then underline and italicize it. Philadelphia has scored a conference-high 15 goals from dead ball situations, thanks to the likes of Sebastien Le Toux, Sheanon Williams, Conor Casey, Jack McInerney, Amobi Okugo and pretty much everyone else who’s donned a Union kit this season it seems. The Union are just that good on the attacking set piece, whether they be corner kicks, free kicks or throw-ins. To ensure that the Revolution aren’t the next victim of a successful Philadelphia set piece, they’ve got to keep an eye on McInerney, who handed the Revolution back-to-back losses last October and earlier this season in March. They may also want to body up on Casey, who’s enjoying a bit of a recent revival with nine goals to his name. And of course, they have to execute their zone defending to perfection. After all, the Union have punished opponents for their mistakes all season.
3. Can a Juan Agudelo keep the attack firing on all cylinders? It may be a small sample size, but it still sheds light on how different the Revolution offense is when the 20-year-old striker’s healthy. In Agudelo’s six apprearances with the Revolution this season, the club’s collected 14 goals, good for a 2.3 goal/game average. And if you really want boil it down further, check this stat out: the Revolution score a goal every 39 minutes when Agudelo’s on the field. So now that we’ve brilliantly established what’s common knowledge, a true test of Agudelo’s presence awaits on Sunday. The Union have only conceded two goals in their last five, and just blanked a full-strength Red Bulls squad last week. Clearly, their recent form isn’t some midsummer mirage. Of course, Agudelo can’t shoulder the entire load for the hosts on Sunday. But it’ll be interesting to see if having him on the pitch is enough to find attacking success.
4. Are the center backs up to the challenge that is Jack McInerney and Conor Casey? In a sense, the Revolution might have been a slightly lucky that Mike Magee didn’t find the back of the net last week. Matt Reis made a strong save on him in the opening minutes, then saw the right stick bail him out in the 27th minute. In essence, it was a very un-Magee-like performance from the Golden Boot contender. Similarly, McInerney is just as elusive, and makes his living by sneaking under backlines and getting into good positions. True, he may be on a bit of a scoring drought at the moment (zero goals in his last eight). But you cannot overlook a player who’s grabbed the game-winner in three of the last four Revolution-Union duels. While the trail’s gone cold for McInerney, Casey is in the midst of a hot streak, with seven goals in his last 10. He is the kind of player that, especially on set pieces, will shove a defender two away wherever he is. While the Revolution have a strong aerial presence in Jose Goncalves, it’s going to take a collective effort from the entire defense to keep Casey from making it eight (or nine, for that matter) in his last 11.
5. Will Matt Reis and A.J. Soares stay in the lineup? Jay Heaps raised more than a few eyebrows by benching Bobby Shuttleworth and Stephen McCarthy, but the boss’s faith in Reis and Soares was certainly rewarded after the Revolution posted the shutout over Chicago. Reis looked like his usual, reliable self in net, while Soares overcame some early passing woes to put together a strong performance alongside Goncalves. With another critical conference clash on tap, expect Heaps to stay with Reis and Soares on Sunday. In addition to both playing well last weekend, Reis has shown himself an expert organizer, something that’s sure to come in handy against the set-piece savvy Union. As for Soares, he’s also proven to be pretty stout on set pieces, both attacking and defending. And while both should strengthen the Revolution defense, there is something to be said about going with what’s currently working at the moment.