New England Soccer Today

Five Questions: #PORvNE

Photo credit: Kari Heistad/

Photo credit: Kari Heistad/

With Jermaine Jones definitely out for Saturday’s match at Portland, the Revolution are now left with only two available players who’ve been stationed at center back this season. That’s right: Two. Two as in the same number of starting spots in the heart of the defense. Two as in, if somebody is forced to come out, the Revolution could be in for a long night at Providence Park.

Suffice to say, Jay Heaps might have to get creative should either Jose Goncalves or Andrew Farrell pick up a knock. Rest assured, the Revolution coach won’t afraid to do just that. After all, we’re talking about the same Jay Heaps who once put A.J. Soares at defensive midfielder. And who could forget the sight of Alec Purdie at right back?

Given Heaps’ outside-the-box thinking, it might be more productive to rule out who more than likely won’t be lining up at center should either Goncalves or Farrell need to come out. So let’s take a look at the non-candidates:

– Diego Fagundez. The 20-year-old is known for his defense in only the smallest of circles, and with good reason. While he’s occasionally good in the air, he isn’t exactly the best at tackling, winning the ball back, and generally anything associated with what it takes to be a successful center back.

– Lee Nguyen. Actually, Nguyen is actually pretty good on the defensive end. Two years ago, he led the club in fouls when he was more of a traditional box-to-box midfielder. That said, you probably don’t want a guy who regularly draws defenders away from your primary goal-scorers to get stuck in. Anywhere.

– Jay Heaps. The player-coach concept hasn’t been seen in New England since the days of Walter Zenga and his backward cap, to be sure. However, if someone can pull it off, why not Heaps? At 38, Heaps is no spring chicken, but then again, he’s not Bruce Arena, either. But not being Bruce Arena probably isn’t enough to for a player to pass muster in MLS.

– Jerry Bengston. Hey, at least you won’t have to worry about him putting it in the back of the net, whether it’s the opposition’s or his own. Advantage: Revolution.

– Slyde. Per MLS and club policy, mascots are prohibited from traveling with the team. OK, we made that rule up just now.

– A random player from the league’s center back pool. That is, if there were such a thing.

Now that our straight jacket’s back from the dry cleaners, let’s take a look at the questions surrounding the Revolution heading into Saturday’s showdown in Cascadia.

1. How will Jay Heaps fill the absence of Juan Agudelo? Heaps was asked that question on Wednesday, and predictably, spoke about the club’s overall depth in the midfield. But really – does anyone envision Scott Caldwell on the wing? Or Zachary Herivaux? OK then. With that out of the way, we can probably narrow it down to Kelyn Rowe and Diego Fagundez. Rowe’s shown slightly more promise on the whole this year, and if we’re going by overall work of art, the nod goes to him. However…however. The original Homegrown Player just opened his account last week on that masterful free kick, and we all know what a confident Fagundez can do. Given that soccer is the ultimate a game of “What have you done for me lately?”, it looks like Fagundez will get the start.

2. What kind of role will Scott Caldwell have? With Jones out, and Dorman likely to start in his place, we’ll probably see more of the attack-minded Caldwell more often than not on Saturday. And the Revolution sure could use that version, especially with Agudelo gone, as well. Even so, don’t expect Caldwell to limit his contributions to the offense while searching for assist number 29. With a possession-minded Portland on tap, look for the Homegrown Player to turn on a dime and inflict some punishment in the midfield with Will Johnson, Gaston Fernandez and, possibly, Diego Valeri all sharpening their knives. In short, Caldwell may have to do everything but slip on the goalkeepers gloves on Saturday.

3. Is this the game that Nguyen gets that first goal from the run of play? It may just be given that Agudelo will be gone. Now, we’re not knocking the 22-year-old striker-turned-winger, because he’s done nothing wrong. But without Agudelo, Davies and others may look for Nguyen more often, which could to lead to more chances, especially if the attack this week is tailored more to Nguyen’s strengths. In other words, it could look a lot like the first half of 2014 out there. Oh, and as if he needed any more motivation, you can bet Nguyen will be chomping following his red card ban.

4. Will the Revolution defense need to pitch a shutout to get a result from Saturday’s match? Given the way the leads have evaporated over the last five weeks, keeping the sheet clean has to be priority no. 1. Should the Revolution get on the board first again, the onus of protecting that lead should fall square on the team’s defensive effort. As our very own Rick Sewall pointed out in this week’s edition of “Technically Speaking,” it is easier to destroy than create. In other words, keep it simple, especially in a hostile environment like the one at Providence Park. And if they don’t score first? Well, there’s no shame in getting a 0-0 scoreline from a team that’s been perennially tough at their home park over the years.

5. What must the Revolution do thwart Portland’s short-pass approach? See game plan vs. New York. Copy and paste game plan. Employ same game plan. In many respects, the Timbers are the Western Conference doppelganger of the Red Bulls, a team that prides itself on possession and imitating Barcelona’s 172-pass sequences. To stop them, the Revolution have to do the same thing they did against the Jesse Marsch’s team: hack, bully and chop down the technically sounds players, i.e., Fernandez, Maxi Urruti and Diego Chara. Frustrate them, and then frazzle them. And if it means absorbing a few cautions along the way, then so be it.

What other questions surround the Revolution heading into Saturday’s game? Tell us in the comments section!

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