Through the first six games of the season, the New England Revolution has seen some good and a few disastrous performances.
Going 2-1-3 in the season’s opening matches, including 0-0-3 in their last three games, the international break may have come at an opportune time for the team. With only Adam Buksa and Arnor Traustason away with Poland and Iceland, respectively, during this window, the team has time to reset and get back together ahead of the coming fixtures.
The defensive fragility seen in the 2021 season, hopefully resolved in the offseason, seems to have found its way into the team early in 2022. Sadly, their solid offensive production from the previous season is still trying to find its form.
The Revolution added some pieces into the season, while losing only one primary offensive starter. With most of the roster returning for the 2022 season, depth was one thing the Revolution seemed to have across the board. In the opening six matches of the season, they have used all the outfield players except the youngsters. While it is disappointing, understandable due to the cancellations of the games against Cavaly AS.
Please excuse how the goalkeepers’ depth chart looks.
Four players were used in the attack, with only one missing out, the youngster Edward Kizza. With the primary minutes going to the DP strikers Adam Buksa and Gustavo Bou, new signing Jozy Altidore has the most appearances for the team. Traditionally a hold-up man, his late arrival to camp has seen him somewhat need to find his full place in the side when seen. He has dropped deeper at times while also being used as a second striker. Justin Rennicks saw minimal time against Charlotte and looked solid.
The forwards in the six games have produced three goals and two assists. Buksa leads all performances with two goals and two assists, though neither of the goals has been in MLS play. In MLS, Jozy Altidore’s lone goal leads the Revolution strike force. This production is a bit problematic, and while it is early in the season, finding the back of the net with regularity needs to begin. In his cameo appearance against Charlotte, Rennicks looked good and will hopefully be getting more time.
With the news of Kizza’s move to Memphis, this does open a spot for another striker to come in.
Across the midfield, there has again been a reasonable amount of time across the roster. While Kaptoum has seen little playing time, every other player has made more than one appearance. Both Maciel and McNamara have moved from starters at the beginning of 2021 to bench players in 2022. Sebastian Lletget has come into the side and played well, getting a primarily more offensive role than when with LA Galaxy. Again the two players currently missing on time this season are youth products Damian Rivera and Noel Buck.
From an offensive standpoint, Sebastian Lletget is tied for the golden boot leader on the Revolution squad. His joining has been decent since he scored two goals in the opening six games and added an assist. Carles Gil has continued his fine form from the 2021 season. Scoring two penalties in MLS with one assist and two more assists in the CCL. Defensively, the holding and defensive midfielders have had moments of confusion and need. Maciel, Kaptoum, and Noel Buck need to be given more chances, and they need to find a balance between offensive production and defensive stability.
The defense has seen plenty of rotation and combinations due to injuries. Every defender has been used so far this season. They used the RSL match as significant squad rotation and brought Jon Bell, Ryan Spaulding, and AJ DeLaGarza into the mix. In the opening three games of the season, the defense looked the part while having a couple of issues. Allowing two goals in the opener, they then proceeded to have consecutive shutouts before falling apart defensively against RSL. Allowing three goals in the final 15 minutes followed by six goals in the next two games, the defense has not looked good recently.
These past couple of games have not been good enough defensively from the Revolution. The opening two goals were due to breakdowns that could have been chalked up to some rust. The past nine have been more worrisome. The defense has looked disjointed and has had moments of not knowing where they should be positioned.
If some of this is due to injuries, then it may correct itself, but you need your depth players to be able to fill in, mainly to try and make a long run in multiple competitions. Jon Bell stepped up and took responsibility for his performance against Charlotte, but he also needs to improve. If this means getting time with Revolution II to get some confidence back, then take that step, but they need to find a way to ensure all of the players are trusted and ready to go.
The biggest question for the roster coming into this season was who would take over as the starter once Matt Turner left in the summer. Due to his injury, this has been looked at much sooner than anticipated. Many thought last year’s backup, Brad Knighton, would have the inside track. But due to a preseason head injury, Earl Edwards Jr was thrust into the spotlight, beating out SuperDraft pick Jacob Jackson. Coming off a year of recovery after a preseason knee injury, Edwards Jr has performed well at times net and has yet to relent his number one spot while Turner is out injured.
With rumors of Turner getting closer to being healthier, the international break is more important than ever to figure out who will start the next match. While there will be calls for Knighton to come back into the eleven, I hope that it is a fair three-person competition for the spot if Turner is not healthy enough to go. Jacob Jackson may be out of the contest with Revolution II season starting. He did appear in Revolution II’s first game of the season recording eight saves during the game.
I believe what is seen below would be Bruce Arena’s preferred starting lineup if healthy. The injuries to Matt Turner and Henry Kessler have been issues since the start of the season. Turner may be long-term as the complete understanding of what is wrong is unknown. Kessler is a muscle injury that was reaggravated in the first half of the match with FC Dallas. Andrew Farrell was recently added to this injury list but is expected to be back after the international break.
Due to the injuries, you have seen some rotation, and it has tested the somewhat successful roster depth.
From how they have lined up, it looks like the formation is a 4-4-2 with a compressed diamond midfield, with Gil being the forward tip. It could almost be treated as a 4-3-1-2, due to the lack of width in the midfield. McNamara/Traustason has started on the left-hand side with Lletget on the right and Matt Polster as the defensive midfielder.
To start and finish the game against RSL and Charlotte, it looked more to be a 4-2-3-1, using a double pivot of Maciel and Kaptoum against RSL and Polster and McNamara. But here, there were times that the team looked utterly discombobulated defensively and offensively.
The most significant problem with how the Revolution is lining up is that the width is lacking. Pumas’ wing-backs fully exposed this. Between McNamara, Traustason, and Lletget, you have players who have been playing more centrally and are taking the two other midfield positions in the diamond. This allowed Pumas to push and get into advantageous situations to cross into the 18. Looking at how the game against Charlotte went, two of their goals came from balls going down the wings, especially the left-hand side recently.
This season, especially in the past two games, the team has seen issues with the left side of the defensive line. Whether it is due to Bell and Jones not being on the same wavelength, Jones has come more centrally in his defending. At times, this tactic has caused Bell to be pulled out and opened up a gap between them.
From an offensive standpoint, there is a lack of diversity. There is a lot of trying to get crosses into the box for headers. This becomes predictable and makes it easier to defend from an oppositional standpoint. While Buksa is one of the best header winners in MLS, there is only so much relying on one tactic can do for you.
What Could Change?
Move to a Back Three
The move to a back three could solidify the defense. Having the extra man back can help since you can see a line of five with the wing-backs tracking back when defending. But if the players are not ready positionally, it again leaves gaps where needed. As crosses have seemed to be one of the most significant issues, the extra width can help with the cover there. There is also the chance that you could create gaps between the midfield block and the attackers. If this happens, it will become easier to counter and for the opposition to get at the Revolution’s defense.
In attacking situations, you could potentially lose something. While the wing-backs are charged with getting forward, the Revolution’s back currently bomb forward. There is nothing gained there, just the extra defender in the back. This leads to the loss of one attacking option in attack.
While there are many more models than the two below, both still bring the issue of if Polster and someone else can fully work as a double pivot. Last season, there were times when they did not fully execute the double pivot properly. If you move to a single pivot and use one as a defensive shield, you are not gaining much defensively.
Move Jones Forward
New England needs to get more solid defensively while still creating opportunities. One thought I had is bringing DeJuan Jones back into his more natural position on the wing. His speed can therefore be more of a factor offensively, and his development defensively will help out in the back. Spaulding did not look overwhelmed in his debut against RSL. He has played in the French Second Division before coming back to Revolution II, and his defensive capabilities might be better than Jones.
In the first option on the left, I used more of a traditional 4-3-1-2. In this formation, you have a little more cover than they do with the 4-4-2 diamond. While it seems similar, the wide men of the midfield three sit slightly deeper and can help cover both the outer channels in the defensive positions. It also leaves Jones in a more natural position in the midfield.
With the 4-2-1-3 you end up with Jones occupying a left-handed defensive midfield position, which is where he has been covering at times. He can still patrol the left-hand side and get forward but here would take more tactical awareness.
From an attack that scored 62 goals in the 2021 MLS season, having six goals in your opening four games is not the worst situation. The main problem is the lack of diversity in how they attack. Where last season they were probing in and around the penalty box and playing through the channels, the attack seems to come down to getting the ball wide and crossing for headers. Both Buksa and Altidore are hold-up strikers, while Gustavo Bou is more of a false nine, but they still need the ability to stretch defenses.
The loss of Buchanan is being felt in terms of players being able to get behind and take on players one on one. While Bou has sometimes shown his capabilities there, it has been somewhat missing this season. Rennicks showed some promise against Charlotte. Edward Kizza is the one main striker with pace but has yet to feature. With the news of his loan to Memphis 901 FC, the Revolution has opened up an international spot yet lost their paciest forward.
Defenses will continue to try to plug Gil’s ability to create chances so that he will need help from the midfield. Especially in the Charlotte game, Polster has shown the ability to make the deep-lying runs into the box, which can help break the lines, but they are infrequent, so other options need to assist in breaking the lines. Lletget has scored and assisted, but he is also central, which can cause congestion.
Whether you need to adjust to ensure more flexibility in the attack with personnel changes like moving Jones forward or just moving the pieces around to create more space and attacking threat, something needs to change.
Expectations out of the Break
The Revolution return to action on April 2nd against New York Red Bull at home. They need to come out and prove they are the team from last year and not the one that has shipped nine goals in the past three games—following that, they go on the road to Inter Miami before a return engagement with Charlotte FC. All three of these games coming out of the break are winnable. The expectation should be to get all nine points and right the ship.
After Arena’s comments about Farrell and Kessler returning, the only major health issue is Matt Turner. While his loss has been felt, between Earl Edwards Jr, Brad Knighton, and Jacob Jackson, the Revolution have two veteran MLS keepers and a rookie who looked good in his first professional start. While none are Turner, they should be able to provide the cover until he is healthy.
Buksa was rested against Charlotte due to the games played and his travel to Europe for World Cup Qualifying with Poland. Bou should be back and healthy after his removal from the Pumas game with a lower leg niggle. This leaves questions of Noel Buck as he has not been in the eighteen for Revolution or Revolution II this year so far.
Looking at performances over the past three games and with Arena’s post-Charlotte press, we know the center-back pairing he is expecting to start is Kessler and Farrell. I anticipate that you see Brandon Bye at right-back but left-back, I am unsure of. Ryan Spaulding performed well in the snow against RSL, and with Jones having ok defensive performances the following two weeks, this could be the chance to push him forward. Spaulding also did media this week, speaking with Sarge, and it could be a clue that he is starting.
Gil, Polster, and Lletget are likely shoe-ins to start in the midfield. If Jones is tried in the midfield will decide that final spot. Personally, if Jones is left-back, my preference is to go back to Maciel or bring in Noel Buck. Maciel sits and helps provide a solid base to build. Also, he and Polster created a powerful tandem starting the 2021 season. Buck, while young, could be a pleasant surprise inclusion. With his being more of an eight would help the Revolution attack.
The Revolution need to continue with two up top as it works well for them. Buksa should start even though he is returning from international duty and the high of qualifying for the World Cup with Poland. The question is Gustavo Bou is. I expect him to start, but can he go the full 90. Altidore looked decent against Charlotte; if there are questions about Bou, he will get the start.
Finally, I think this will be a toss-up between Earl Edwards Jr and Brad Knighton without a healthy Turner. Jacob Jackson will likely be starting the home match with the Revolution II the following day, leaving it to the MLS veterans to fill in.
Six games do not define a season. Six games do not mean this is the team that will compete in the next six games. While this team is trending in the wrong direction, they have time to rebound. Dropping a clean sheet and 3 points to RSL in the final 15 minutes of play should sting. Being knocked out of the CONCACAF Champions League is a sting that should hurt. Coming out and not matching Charlotte’s intensity should be a lesson to learn.
This side has the talent and knows how to rebound from this stretch. The international break may have been a blessing in disguise. It allowed the team to refocus and get healthy. While there were red flags from the performances, this team can win. The depth chart may need to change, but this is the team that the Revolution has for now.
This year will be more challenging than last year. The upcoming games are entirely winnable, and this team needs to grab the opportunity in front of them and get results. They have the talent. They need to get there, whether it takes grinding and holding on or running away with an offensive outburst. The team needs to find its feet and be ready since they have a target on their back.