Youth vs. experience. Old vs. new. Michael Keaton Batman vs. Christian Bale Batman. If you like these kinds of debates, then you’ll love Sunday’s Revolution-Impact clash.
On one hand, we have the Revolution (average age 23.5), a team stocked with enough young talent to be a dark horse in this year’s run to the College Cup. The likes of Diego Fagundez (18), Andrew Farrell (20), Juan Agudelo (20), Kelyn Rowe (21), Scott Caldwell (22) and Dimitry Imbongo (23) have all helped put the fifth-place Revolution in position for their first playoff berth in four years.
On the other hand, we have Impact (average age 29.5), a team full of savvy and experience, and enough credentials to play in an over-30 league. With the help of Hassoun Camara (29), Patrice Bernier (33), Davy Arnaud (33), Matteo Ferrari (33), Marco Di Vaio (37) and Alessandro Nesta (37), the Impact wake up on Sunday morning three points below first place.
Regardless of which side you choose, they both bring their own distinct style to the table. Styles that, despite their differences, have each yielded success.
The Revolution are an exuberant bunch who like to play one-touch, two-touch soccer, and do their best impression of Barcelona. They often try to establish a quick, high-energy tempo that’s predicated upon short passes and creative play. Oh, and they also celebrate goals with elaborate handshakes and faux rowing a pretend canoe.
The Impact rely on lessons learned over the years, whether those years were spent in Italy, Argentina or France. Instead of short passes and pace, they focus on playing it over the top to Di Vaio, whose league-leading 15 goals suggests that they’re doing something right. At least when he’s actually onside.
It’s difficult to say who has the advantage. Generally, a manager would rather have experience over youth at this time of year. Experience is often a safer play, especially as the stakes continue to raise. Yet, there’s also something to be said about youth, which hasn’t yet been jaded by past failures and misfortune. It may not be as dependable, but it sure can be fun to watch.
Fortunately, we get to see this debate settled on the pitch, even if it’s a hastily-constructed one. Barring a draw, of course.
Whatever unfolds on Sunday, it should yield some scintillating soccer. But before we find out how these teams perform, let’s go in studs up on this week’s set of questions.
1. Can the Revolution offense muster enough chances if Juan Agudelo can’t go? It’s been a tough trek for the attack when Agudelo’s reduced to bystander. Instead of the MLS Fantasy Soccer-friendly 2.25 goals/game, the Revolution scrape together a measly 1.125, goals/game, a reminder of why his teammates call him Swagudelo. With a hamstring injury keeping him out of Sunday’s contest, the onus will fall on the shoulders of leading scorer/MLS 36 star Diego Fagundez to steer the attack in the right direction. But the 18-year-old can’t do it alone. He’ll need the help of Kelyn Rowe, Chad Barrett and, possibly, Saer Sene to get the offense going. Whether Jay Heaps pushes Chad Barrett up, or slots Dimitry Imbongo as the #9, expect the usual mix of short passes and long balls that have helped the Revolution attack flow, even if that style is less filling and contains fewer calories than it does with Agudelo on the pitch. Regardless of what changes in approach are made, it’ll be impossible to ignore Agudelo’s absence on Sunday.
2. How can the Revolution keep Marco Di Vaio from adding to his goal total? Earlier this week, Heaps said his defenders need to be smart and keep their heads on a swivel with the sneaky Di Vaio on the pitch. This is good advice, but Heaps knows that can’t just set their sights on the Italian international alone. With the likes of Felipe Martins, Patrice Bernier and notorious Rev-killer Justin Mapp all looking to pad their assist total (each has seven, for those keeping score at home), it’s essential that the hosts don’t allow their Canadian guests to run roughshod in the midfield. They cannot allow Montreal to do what Toronto did to them nine days ago. As such, Scott Caldwell and Lee Nguyen have to win balls in the middle, and the handouts inside their own end have to stop. There’s just no other way against a veteran side with playoff ambitions. Team defense has been the motto all season, and that’s exactly what it’ll take to keep Di Vaio off the board. After all, a striker can’t do much without service.
3. How much of a factor will the makeshift grass pitch play? Many a media member have made big deals about the makeshift grass pitch, whether it be for World Cup Qualifying, or your average international friendly. Like Paul Revere, they gallop through the streets (OK, maybe they tweet instead) proclaiming that serious injuries are coming. These dire warnings created serious debate about the safety of such pitches, a debate that carries on until it’s discovered that there’s no extensive statistical proof to firmly link them torn ACLs, ruptured Achilles, shin splints, etc. Now, with that out of the way, it’s unlikely that the grass will alter either side’s general approach to the match. The Impact have no qualms playing it over the top, so the new grass shouldn’t be too much of an issue for them. Montreal doesn’t rely on speed that often, so they probably won’t be troubled by the quality of the sod in that respect, either. Generally speaking, the same goes for the Revolution, although with Agudelo out, they may not be as tempted to use the long ball as often. The grass may change the dynamic slightly, but it probably won’t alter the course of events. Unless, of course, someone blows out their ACL (which, of course, no one wants to see).
4. Aside from Agudelo’s absence, will Jay Heaps trot out the same lineup? At first blush, it would appear that way. While the Revolution XI in Toronto may not have played brilliantly, it did find a way to score early, and did hold on after Andrew Wiedeman’s equalizer, even if it wasn’t all that pretty. Nevertheless, the Revolution got a result from it, and now return to Gillette Stadium with an eye on extending their unbeaten streak to four. With a dangerous Impact attack on tap, it would be surprising to see Heaps make any changes in the rear. Ditto for the midfield, with the exception of whether Barrett gets pushed up to replace Agudelo, and Sene returns to the right. Consistency is key at this juncture of the season, especially against a seasoned side like Montreal, so expect the same cast of characters to take center stage on Sunday.
5. Can the Revolution take advantage of a road-weary Impact side? They might as well. While the Impact are a sterling 9-1-3 at Stade Saputo, they’re a surprising 3-6-3 on the road. Homesick much, Montreal? While no MLS team resides above the .500 mark on the road, the second-place Impact might are nowhere near as effective as they are at home. It’s not even close. They’ve conceded 22 goals in 12 road tilts, and have only scored twice in their last five as a guest. Its is as if they don D.C. United jerseys instead of their Impact ones. Of course, coach Marco Schallibaum knows this, and will likely stress the importance of a road point this weekend. Knowing this, the Revolution have to be as patient. They have to expect 90 minutes of pressing the Impact, and avoiding the frustration factor. They must remain relentless from start to finish, lest a repeat of last week’s game come to fruition.