The Houston Dynamo are looking for their first win on the road along with their first clean sheet of the 2017 season. They’re hoping that will come against the seemingly struggling New England Revolution. The Dynamo have been perfect at home, grabbing 9 points out of 9 at BBVA Compass Stadium, but they’ve dropped their only road result at Portland in a 4-2 defeat. While the Dynamo appear to be the hot team coming into this match, it should be noted that the Revs have only played 1 of their matches this season at home which was a commanding win for them. Both sides have plenty to play for: one wants to prove it’s a contender by winning on the road and the other wants to play to its potential and start winning.
In our preview of the match we discussed both team’s current positions along with the last time the Dynamo met at Gillette Stadium, but we wanted to know more about our opponents so we spoke with Jake Catanese of the Bent Musket to get some insight about his side and what to expect.
Dynamo Theory: Last season the Revolution finished just outside of the final playoff seed in the Eastern Conference. What have the Revs done this offseason to get themselves into the playoffs?
The Bent Musket: The biggest thing for New England has been on the defensive side of the ball. International center backs Antonio Delamea of Slovenia and Benjamin Angoua from the Ivory Coast have been brought in to bolster a backline that has been unsettled for the last two years after the departure of AJ Soares. Add in fourth round draft pick Joshua Smith into the mix after his incredibly solid MLS debut in Portland last weekend and the Revs backline seems far more organized and composed this early in the season. The defense hasn't been perfect and there's still chemistry to be built up as a unit with Cody Cropper taking over the #1 GK spot as well.
The other major addition has actually been with the team for a while, but Xavier Kouassi blew out his knee last spring completing his European club season before signing officially with the Revs after agreeing to a pre-contract. Kouassi is the heir to Jermaine Jones and Gershon Koffie in the holding midfield role and while we've seen what he can do on the defensive side and his general passing, we haven't really seen him get involved in the offense yet. Kouassi's a highly rated talent but is still working back to full fitness, and the more comfortable he gets on the field the quicker the Revs get another dimension to this team.
DT: With a talented offensive group of players in Lee Nguyen, Kei Kamara, David Fagundez, and Teal Bunbury, I was a little surprised to see that the Revs have only scored more than 1 goal only once this year and it came over expansion side Minnesota United FC. What does it take to get this offense going?
TBM: I think more home games would help, but we'll talk about that in a bit. Playing three of your first four games at Colorado, Dallas and Portland aren't exactly easy place to get wins, let alone draws for the most part, so goals weren't going to be in abundance to start the season against those defenses. However, the Revs have generally opted for a conservative approach and this is a team that thrives on being pretty aggressive. There was an early experiment of playing Agudelo at the top of the diamond and Nguyen at striker that worked well in preseason but not against Colorado or Dallas and hopefully it stays scrapped.
Against Dallas however, the Revs started out very well, pressuring FCD and earning a penalty to take a lead in the first fifteen minutes or so. Then they sort of sat back and waited for someone, in this case Maxi Urruti, to obliterate them. The Revs want to always be on the proverbial front foot when it comes to their attack, they should be firm believers in the whole best defense is a good offense strategy, and for the most part this year they've seemed content to build from the back and try and break teams down. It might be an admirable approach, but it's not what this team was good at when Jay Heaps took over. This is a team that thrives on speed, especially on the counter-attack and a slow plodding build up against a packed in opponent usually leads to predictable attacks that are easily defended.
That being said, this is a team that is going to want to get guys like Nguyen, Fagundez, Agudelo, etc., on the ball and taking on players to create mismatches. New England on the ball in open space is probably one of the worst things to try and defend against in MLS but we just haven't seen them do it all that often this year and even in last year. The Revs also had a lot of success at the end of last year with switching from a 4-2-3-1 formation to a diamond midfield with Juan Agudelo and Kei Kamara up top but so far neither have had a ton of opportunities early on to find a groove except against Minnesota who might not be good at soccer.
DT: The New England Revolution have only played one game this season at home and it was their most successful by a long shot. Is the schedule to blame for the Revs rocky start or are there some adjustments (personnel or tactics wise) to get this team playing its best?
TBM: I don't think the schedule helps. If we're being honest, one point from games away to Colorado, Dallas and Portland isn't the end of the world, especially with both losses being one-goal games. There were many times on the road last year where the Revs would've just continued to give up goals and get blown out on the road but that hasn't happened yet this year and I think that's a positive. All three games were a fairly mixed bag: the Revs did some good things, made a few mistakes and then saw Urruti and Diego Valeri punish those mistakes in generally spectacular fashion. It happens.
I think at times Heaps will have to play a few matchups and might even lean on the 4-2-3-1 a bit throughout the season. We've already seen him start big rookie center back Josh Smith to counter Fanendo Adi in Portland and while the Revs only have a 23-man roster, they're two-deep on the depth chart at every position and have a lot of utility in how they can approach things on a game by game basis. It's going to be really interesting to see how the Revs can build on this upcoming homestand (three of the next four at home) to set the tone for the rest of the year.
DT: Bonus question – The last time the Dynamo went to Gillette Stadium the game took nearly 5 hours to complete due to just about 3 hours in weather delays. What’s the forecast look like this time?
TBM: Well, let's see here...a snowstorm postponed the Orlando game a few weeks back, we've gotten like 18 inches of rain this week or something like that and it was like 40 degrees when we played Minnesota two weeks ago. There is only one appropriate forecast for Saturday:
(I'm kidding, Weather Channel says 50 degrees and probably some wind. Not ideal, but typical New England Smarch weather.)
Expected Injuries/Omissions: No injuries for New England and I think Angoua returns to the backline to help deal with the smaller Cubo Torres. Rest of the team is unchanged in the diamond setup unless Heaps tries to play Nguyen at striker and Agudelo at the CAM/#10 spot like he did in a few of the early games.
Projected Lineup: Cropper; Tierney, Angoua, Delamea, Farrell; Kouassi, Fagundez, Rowe, Nguyen; Agudelo, Kamara
Predicted Outcome: 3-2 Revs, I think Cubo gets at least one but the Revs finally get things going with a nice home result.
For my answers to Jake’s questions check them out at the Bent Musket!