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Scouting Report: Suppressing the New England Revolution

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This Revolution will be televised, but the good guys are here to quash it.

MLS: Seattle Sounders FC at New England Revolution
A bad revolution tries to keep a good man down.
Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Who You’ll Watch

The Seattle Sounders finally return home from a three-game road trip that saw them go up and down the West Coast and brought home four points out of a possible nine. This week, they welcome the New England Revolution to CenturyLink Field. This will be the only regular season meeting between the two clubs this season.

The Sounders are coming off of a 3-0 thrashing of the LA Galaxy. Everything seemed to work for the Sounders in the first half. The Revs played two games last week and enter this game coming off back-to-back draws, their last at home against D.C. United.

The last time these two played was on May 28, 2016, when the Sounders fell 2-1 at Gillette Stadium. Aaron Kovar got the Sounders on the board first in the 7th minute, but that was all the scoring the Sounders would see on their end. Lee Nguyen leveled the score with a 24th minute penalty and Femi Hollinger-Janzen scored the game-winning goal in the 80th minute.

The Sounders will still be without Kovar (groin surgery) and presumably both Roman Torres (left hamstring strain) and Brad Evans (calf muscle strain). New England only has one player listed on the injury report thus far in Daigo Kobayashi (leg contusion).

Revolution record: 2-3-3, 8th in the East

Top Scorer: Nguyen, four goals

Top Assist leader: Scott Caldwell and Diego Fagundez, two each

Notable Revolution roster changes

Out: Jose Goncalves, Gershon Koffie (Hammarby), Bobby Shuttleworth (traded to Minnesota United)

In: Brian Wright (SuperDraft), Joshua Smith (SuperDraft), Benjamin Angoua (loan from Guingamp)

What to Watch

The New England Revolution are talented, but they are definitely not good. Their most prolific match of the year so far, a 5-2 drubbing of Minnesota, skews many of their offensive numbers, obscuring the fact that they’re a team of players who struggle to play as a team, and their record hides the fact they’ve played mostly the bottom-feeders of the league. New England has had a solid roster with moderately talented components for the last few years, but they clearly lack a strong on-field leader and identity that they haven’t been able to find since Jermaine Jones left.

Head coach Jay Heaps has them line up in something akin to a 4-1-3-2/4-diamond-2, with Rowe on the right as a shuttler, Nguyen in the middle as a traditional 10, and Fagundez as a more traditional winger on the left (as a reference, it’s not so different in structure from what the Sounders did in the Zakuani era). The Revs are not a team interested in possessing their opponents to death — as soon as they get the ball, they’re generally looking to push it forward as fast as they can. Unfortunately for them, this opens them up to counterattacks, and they don’t do well with their decision-making under pressure.

Force fast decisions - Revs matches are almost Shakespearean in their level of confusion bordering on the absurd and self-inflicted pain. A (very small) sampling of individual and team mental errors in the last few matches:

  • Cody Cropper stares at a ball being ushered back to him by his CB for so long an attacker from the center of the field is able to catch up and force the CB to kick it out
  • Diego Fagundez takes the ball inside out from the top of the attacking third to the corner despite being one-on-one with the last defender
  • At various times significant portions of the attack literally walk upfield as a lone fellow attacker attempts to push the ball
  • Reactive defending by the entire back five, or just plain spectating and leaving the active defender on an island
  • Chris Tierney softly popping the ball up and failing to clear the ball out of the 18 three separate times on the same sequence

New England has consistently been prone to individual errors at a rate I can’t remember seeing at the MLS level (maybe Chivas RIP or recent Chicago Fire teams?), and most of them seem to come while under pressure of some type. That these things have not led to any number of goals is nothing short of a minor miracle, and very much indicative of the quality they’ve faced to this point.

Seattle’s skilled players should be up to the task of taking advantage of the Revolution’s wet powder. In fact, the Sounders’ movement should exacerbate many of these mistakes if they’re not fixed. Sebastian Le Toux was able to consistently get behind or find himself easily cutting through space last weekend, and at this point in his career that’s no longer a thing that should happen unless you have major issues. There’s every reason to think last week’s front four will provide some fireworks.

Exploit poor structure - The Revs struggle to execute on the road; perhaps no better indicator of this exists than this: They take half as many shots, 15.8 at home vs 7.5 on the road, and possess the ball nearly 8% more as a result of constantly playing from behind. The 4-diamond-2 formation and New England’s roster is built to run at people, but their defense struggles to fully turn back the inevitable counterattacks, and on the road they seem much more inclined to sit back and try to break out. Xavier Kouassi is a strong defensive midfielder at the bottom point, but his passing leaves a bit to be desired. It should be no surprise that their road record is a paltry 0-3-1 with two goals scored.

If they do come out of the parked bus, it likely will be in the form of an ill-supported fast break; this is true whether they’re coming from a full bunker or just countering. Using a shuttler demands that the fullback on the same side provide the width. Andrew Farrell, on the right supporting Rowe the shuttler, is not this type of fullback. Chris Tierney has the capability to do so on the left, but his form seems to have abandoned him in Kei Kamara’s hour of need, and he’s behind the standard winger Fagundez. Unsurprisingly, it’s quite common to see a Revs attack driving forward without numbers.

Kamara, in particular, has to be a frustrating player for Revs fans. For all his skill, he’s a poor fit for the current roster, though a decent fit for the tactical theory. The lack of width and crosses has pulled Kamara out of the box to find the ball in the final third, a thing that teams around the league will gladly accept.

Bunkered teams have been a problem for the Sounders so far this year, but judicious use of Osvaldo Alonso and Cristian Roldan in the attack should help alleviate this against a less disciplined team. The key will be for them to get upfield enough to draw the midfielders out, but not so far as to expose the centerbacks to needing to take long runs in the park. This will only be truly necessary, however, if New England is able to sustain a bunker. Based on their spotty track record around defensive cohesiveness, this seems like a questionable assumption.

Expected Lineups

New England: Cropper; Tierney, Smith, Mlinar-Delamea, Andrew Farrell; Kouassi; Rowe, Fagundez; Nguyen; Juan Agudelo, Kamara

Seattle: Stefan Frei; Joevin Jones, Chad Marshall, Svensson, Oniel Fisher; Alonso, Roldan; Jordan Morris, Clint Dempsey, Nicolas Lodeiro; Will Bruin

How to Watch

Date/Time: Saturday, April 29 at 7:00 pm

Venue: CenturyLink Field

Television: Q13, Univision-Seattle

Radio: KIRO 97.3 (English), 1360 El Rey (Spanish)