New England Soccer Today

Five Questions: #NEvMTL

Photo credit: New England Revolution

Photo credit: New England Revolution

It’s Week 3 of the MLS season, which can only mean one thing: the Revolution home opener is here!

Yes, for the fourth straight year, the league, in its typical passive-aggressive fashion, put the soccer specific stadium-less Revolution on the road first two matches on the road. And this year, that two-game gauntlet was brutal: at Seattle, then at New York City for its first ever home match. Not unexpectedly, the Revolution did not do so well, going 0-2-0 with a negative-5 goal differential.

But after those demoralizing defeats, the clouds have started to brighten. Rays of sunshine have begun to poke through. OK, the actual forecast for Saturday is actually much different. But stay with us here, folks. Because before you know it, blue skies will arrive, birds will sing their songs, and along with it, improved defense and better form in front of the net, which means – yes – goals. Gorgeous and beautiful goals.

Yes, the Revolution’s woes won’t magically disappear between week 2 and week 3. But it will improve. Gradually. Granted, some of the problems that plagued them near the Puget Sound and in the heart of the Bronx are alarming, especially in the rear. But as we’ve seen during previous early-season starts, the club generally tends to bounce back from its early season struggles by April.

Regardless of the current state of the local XI, the arrival of the home opener is a welcome development for all involved. The coaches, the players, the supporters, heck, even the media, because the Wi-Fi at away press boxes is always hit or miss. #firstworldproblems

Anyway, let’s pack away the winter jackets and mittens. Let’s break out the shorts and sandals. That white stuff that’s falling down on southeastern New England? Just a misdirection from Mother Nature. So let’s dive into the questions that surround the Revolution going into the first full day of spring, and more specifically, their meeting against the Montreal Impact.

1. Who will replace Jose Goncalves in the XI? The leading candidate appears to be Darrius Barnes, you know, the guy who actually played center back during his first three seasons. He also happens to be the same guy who may have been overlooked during this whole Andrew Farrell experiment. But because Jay Heaps does not always conform to the conventional wisdom, there is some doubt – however small – that the job could go to someone else. Like rookie London Woodberry. Or even central midfielder Andy Dorman, who temporarily filled Goncalves spot after the skipper was sent off. The safe play, of course, is Barnes. But then again, you just never know given the current state of the backline. After all, there’ll be a right back opposite of Goncalves replacement for the third straight week.

2. Will Jeremy Hall make his Revolution debut? The magic eight ball reads “Signs Point to Yes,” especially after the promising preseason resume he put together. However, the answer isn’t as clear as it appears. For starters, the converted right back has yet to make the 18 this season. In fact, he was actually kept off the gameday roster in favor of Woodberry at Seattle, though that may have been more of a tactical decision than an indictment of Hall’s ability to contribute. Anywho, with Kevin Alston out, the conditions appear to be favorable for Hall to take over at fullback. That is, of course, if Barnes is at center back. And as we saw during the latter stages of last week’s loss at Yankee Stadium, that’s not necessarily a guarantee.

3. Where must the Revolution improve the most? After watching the Revolution butcher their chances at Yankee Stadium last weekend, the answer would appear to be finishing. But earlier this week, Andy Dorman told us that, generally speaking, the last thing to click for a squad coming out of preseason is the attack. So it might be a few more weeks until the attack is in top form. Given that, the Revolution simply have to be better in the back in order to start getting points. That won’t be as easy as it looks with Gonclaves and Alston out on Saturday. But the excuses will have to take a backseat. The entire back four and Bobby Shuttleworth must keep the communication lines open, and man marking must improve. Oh, and getting rid of the late-game mental mistakes (see: the Patrick Mullins goal sequence) will be key, as well.

4. What area cannot be overlooked? Jay Heaps places a high amount of importance on “meaningful possession,” and justifiably so. The overall possession stat can be a misleading one, as evidenced by the fact that the now-defunct Chivas USA ranked first in that department in 2013 and, well, didn’t have a heck of a whole lot to show for it. But as much as keeping the ball in Montreal’s end will be key, the Revolution cannot afford to be careless or cavalier in their own end. Giveaways in front of the halfway line have killed the locals. Their inability to build out of the back is one reason why they’ve been scored upon five times,  and have watched their goalkeeper get MLS Team of the Week billing.

5. Will the locals finally find the back of the net? It’s difficult to say, especially given how inconsistent the offense has been during these early weeks. Yes, they looked better than they did during First Kick, but then again, it would’ve been nearly impossible to be any less dangerous than they were at CenturyLink Field. However, eliciting a few oohs and ahhs from the Foxborough faithful won’t cut it. The only thing that matters is giving the minutemen impetus to fire their rifles. How can they do that? To borrow another grain of wisdom from Mr. Dorman, the Revolution must be “ruthless” in their own box. They cannot give the Impact back line an unlimited supply of “Get Out of Jail Free” cards. That said, with the home crowd behind them and their own cars in the parking lot, the breakthrough will arrive, Revolution supporters. You will witness it first-hand on Saturday (possibly). And it’ll come from Diego Fagundez (we think).

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