Saturday, our beloved Houston Dynamo travel to Boston to take on the fifth place New England Revolution. In preparation for this highly pivotal match, I had the pleasure of exchanging questions with Steve Stoehr of The Bent Musket in hopes of obtaining some insight into the "enemy".
1.) Diego Fagundez has been an absolute revelation for the Revolution this season. If you were in Dominic Kinnear's shoes, how would you try to limit his influence on this match?
Diego's general influence on matches has fluctuated over the course of the season. Back around the time of our clubs' first meeting, when the Revs were torching teams week in and week out, Diego was a force of nature. Every time he was on the ball he was dicing teams up and creating for his teammates, and when off the ball he made cutting runs that got him into great scoring positions.
Since then he's become a bit more opportunistic. He remains the club's leading goalscorer and most dangerous offensive threat, but he now tends to influence the game in phases. You'll see long stretches where he virtually disappears, and then suddenly he'll make a darting run and score a goal, or become involved in a quick and creative passing play that creates one for someone else.
To stop him, you need to keep him uncomfortable. Put a highly-dangerous and fast attacker on his side of the pitch. Now, the Revs' forwards tend to swap flanks, which can mitigate that; however, his counterpart is likely to be Saer Sene, who makes Diego look like a defensive genius. That can often limit how often Fagundez can drift into open spaces, as he constantly needs to be mindful of leaving his fullback (usually the capable but slow Chris Tierney) on an island. Also, bullying him physically is often effective. It won't make him scared of contact or anything - the kid has fire in his veins and he'll go toe-to-toe with anybody - but given his size, he's not terrifically difficult to knock off the ball. Hopefully the referee won't allow something like that to happen but, well, this is MLS. You know how it goes.
2.) New England sit on the cusp of the proverbial "red line" to make the playoffs (currently, they would face the Houston Dynamo in a one-game playoff at BBVA Compass Stadium should results hold steady). Besides the obvious answer, "win", what do the Revolution need to do to make the playoffs in these last few matches?
Play better on the road. You hit the nail on the head when you said "win," but honestly, "win at home" might be more accurate. Including Saturday's clash, the Revs have two more home matches to come, and anything less than three points from either of them is a failure. New England isn't a great road team, and it's tough to expect that they'll get positive results away from home. Therefore, they need to maximize their points total at home in the stretch run to have a chance at holding onto fifth, or even leap-frogging permanently into fourth. This six-pointer is a big step in that direction.
Other than that, the best way to describe their needs right now is to say that they need to not lose. If the Revs can pick up both home wins and somehow get three points in a road match, maybe they can afford a loss somewhere. But otherwise, three road draws is the absolute minimum. New England can't count on other clubs to stumble anymore. There's no room for error. 49 points should be enough to secure fifth place this season, and the Revs have the edge over everybody on goals scored. If they can hit that point total and maintain that edge, their chances of a postseason appearance are very good.
3.) From an outsiders perspective, the Revolution are comprised of mainly lesser known individuals with plenty of upside, but nobody who really moves the media needle, so to speak. As someone who follows the team pretty closely, do you think the team notices the, for lack of a better term, lack of respect from the media? If so, do you feel it makes them stronger?
I'm sure they notice, but I don't think they let it bother them. This team has been toiling in relative obscurity for years now, and lord knows those of us in the "independent media" segment shower them with more than enough scrutiny throughout the year. Despite a lack of visibility, the Revs are part of a small but very tight-knit community, and I think they respect that and enjoy it. I'm sure some players like Agudelo and Goncalves actually prefer it.
I think the bigger issue is living in the shadow of the Patriots. Everyone on the team and affiliated with the club will tell you that the relationship between the club and the ownership is strong, that they have great partnerships with the Pats, and all that. In a lot of ways, that's true; fans here in New England have an agenda against the Krafts, and whether that's deserved or not, it tends to color perception. But players who have left (re: Jeff Larentowicz, Marko Perovic) have made the same comments about the focus on the Patriots over the Revs in Foxboro. Perhaps they had singular experiences...but I think when it's this time of year and the team is in a playoff race, yet they have to play on football lines at their home stadium, they probably can't help but feel a little aggrieved, at least some of them. That's pure speculation on my part, of course.
* - if Juan Agudelo is good to start, he'll replace Imbongo without a doubt
2-1 Revolution. No Moffat rockets, no three points in Foxboro for the Dynamo, I think. It'll be nervy, though, and I agree that it will be a draw until at least the 70th minute.
For my answers to Steve's questions to me, visit The Bent Musket, and while you're there feel free to leave a friendly comment or two (remember, you represent the Houston Dynamo fans when you visit other blogs and comment!).