New England Soccer Today

Five Questions: Revolution vs. Toronto FC

Leave it to Clint Dempsey to take away the sting of Wednesday’s All-Star Game embarrassment.

Less than 48 hours after the league’s best was run ragged by a fitness-challenged Roma, one of the best American players in the world is on the verge of re-joining MLS.

Say what you will about how any MLS team inside a single-entity setup could possibly sign Dempsey away from a strong EPL side. Yes, they may use fuzzy math to do it, but seeing Deuce back in MLS is win-win for everyone involved.

Clint Dempsey was sold by the New England Revolution to Fulham FC in 2006 for a then MLS record $4 million transfer fee. (Photo: Art Donahue/

Clint Dempsey was sold by the New England Revolution to Fulham FC in 2006 for a then MLS record $4 million transfer fee. (Photo: Art Donahue/

For starters, Dempsey’s signing is a huge boon for the Sounders, who currently sit four points below the final playoff spot in the west. It’s hard to believe that a front four that includes both Dempsey and fellow National Teamer Eddie Johnson won’t improve its fortunes fast.

On a larger scale, the signing also reminds us that a club is only limited by its own ambitions. The Galaxy are back-to-back defending champions not only because they have a ton of money to spend, but because that use that money wisely. The Sounders appear to be well on their way to do the same, especially after picking up some extra cash from the Fredy Montero transfer.

Perhaps the biggest development that Dempsey’s potential signing signals is that MLS is entering an entirely new era. Forget the Commissioner’s talk of expanding to 24 clubs by 2020. That’s great and all, of course. But should the Sounders ink Dempsey in the coming days, it would be one of the biggest signings in league history, not only for the amount of money ($9 million), but for who that money is going to: an American player.

When Dempsey left the league nearly seven years ago, the league only had 12 clubs, David Beckham hadn’t yet stepped onto the pitch for the Galaxy, and Chivas USA actually had some credibility.

Now, he joins a league brimming with talented, internationally-tested American players like Johnson, Landon Donovan, Omar Gonzalez, Carlos Bocanegra, Nick Rimando, Matt Besler and Chris Wondolowski. And he’s about to play in front of a home crowd that many EPL clubs only wished they drew.

With Dempsey’s return, MLS just entered into a new era. An era in which, hopefully, more Americans see the financial rewards of either returning to the league, or staying here rather than going overseas. And every club – including the Revolution – stands to benefit from it.

Speaking of the Revolution – they’ve got a game on tap for Sunday against Toronto FC. Where there’s a game, there’s at least five questions to be asked.

1. Are the Revolution capable of overcoming the curse of the slow start? It’s puzzling to think how a team with legitimate playoff ambitions can continually stall right out of the gate, especially against weaker competition. Last week, we saw D.C. punch above its weight for a good 10-15 minutes, and in the process, put the Revolution in a humbling one-goal hole against the worst offense in the league. This week, a similarly challenged Toronto FC strolls into town intent to the do same. With the lessons learned from last week’s showing, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Revolution dictate the tempo early by playing some long balls and putting the Toronto backline under pressure immediately. It may not look pretty, it may not be the tiki-taka stuff the pundits shed man-tears about, but it might just be what the Revolution need to avoid another early humiliation, especially at home.

2. What can the Revolution do to prevent more long-distance shots from finding the back of the net? Those ambitious hits from distance have certainly proven to be a pain in the buns for the Revolution in recent weeks. In fact, six of the last seven goals they’ve given up have been fired from outside the 18. Clearly, this isn’t a case of a lucky shot or two falling through. The opposition has started to figure out that a good way to beat the Revolution’s vaunted defense is to give it a go wherever they can find the space to do it. And that’s really what it boils down to: space. The center backs and defensive midfielder – whether it’s Scott Caldwell or Clyde Simms – need to close in quicker when players like Jonathan Osorio and Matias Laba veered toward the edge of the 18. And, of course, Shuttleworth has to react faster when those kinds of shots make their way toward goal. For a club that’s leaked through a league-low 19 goals, it’s not an impossible task.

3. Who gets the start at defensive midfielder? The smart money has to be on Scott Caldwell. Last week, we saw Clyde Simms get the start, and the D.C. attack immediately set the tempo by grabbing poor passes and loose balls in the middle of the park. Fortunately for Simms and the Revolution, D.C. only converted on one of the golden chances. At halftime, Heaps immediately called upon Caldwell to start the second half, and not only did the Revolution acquire more meaningful possession, but many of the defensive holes seen in the first half were plugged up. Now, Saturday’s performance shouldn’t be construed as a knock on Simms. He has shown himself to be a good player in certain situations. But for what Caldwell brings to the table, the Revolution are best served by having him on the pitch at the beginning of Sunday’s game.

4. Can Diego Fagundez make it three in a row? He scored against Toronto the first time they came to town on May 25, and there’s little to suggest that he won’t be able to do it again. Even though Toronto came through at end of last week’s 2-1 win against Columbus, they should thank the Canadian soccer gods that the Crew were the opposite of lethal inside and around the 18. True, the May 25 contest was close up until Juan Agudelo scored in stoppage time, but the Reds defense is hardly a nightmare matchup for a creative player like Fagundez. And with his confidence clearly back after going goalless in six straight, the teenage midfielder appears primed to find the back of the net once again on Sunday.

5. What’s the biggest challenge Toronto brings to the table? One word: unpredictability. The Toronto team the Revolution saw two months ago is different than the one they’ll see on Sunday. With Robert Earnshaw unlikely to go, the Reds will rely on a number of creative and dangerous players who can interchange nearly as effectively as the Revolution attack does. Osorio, who scored the late equalizer in last week’s contest, gave the Revolution defense fits back in May, while Bobby Convey still has plenty of skill to send in a threatening cross at a moment’s notice. The old saying of the enemy that you know is better than the enemy that you don’t know certainly applies to the contest on tap for Sunday.