We are well into the meat grinder section of the MLS calendar, and for both D.C. United and the New England Revolution, that means tomorrow night’s US Open Cup match comes at a tough time. Tomorrow will mark the fifth game in fifteen days for United, and it’ll be followed by another road game Saturday (a critical game in Montreal) and yet another road game on Tuesday (nothing like Texas in July, amirite?). Even with Sean Franklin and Rob Vincent reportedly available to play, this is as tough a week as there is on D.C.’s schedule.
The fixture list has been kinder to the Revs, who come into this game having played only three times in the last fourteen days (and with an extra day of rest before their next game after this one), but the fates have lashed out at New England’s list of available players. Between international call-ups and injuries, Jay Heaps will be outright missing all of the following:
Kelyn Rowe - called up for the United States 2017 Gold Cup squad
Juan Agudelo - same USMNT duty
Gershon Koffie - called up by Ghana for their friendlies against Mexico and the USMNT**
Xavier Kouassi - quadriceps strain
**Interesting side note: Since Ghana isn’t in the Gold Cup, and there is no current international friendly window, the Revs would be entirely within their rights to have Koffie stay for tomorrow’s game before letting him go. However, both reporting from others and the club’s wording of the press release announcing his call-up points strongly to Koffie going with the Black Stars and being unavailable for the Revs.
That’s four starters, including both top defensive midfielders for the 4231 that the Revolution have gone back to after spending most of the season in a diamond 442. That’s not all: Scott Caldwell’s status is unknown after picking up a concussion last week, and it would be fair to see him as doubtful. Antonio Delamea was stretchered off on Saturday with a gruesome looking broken nose, and it sounds like he’s no more likely to play than Caldwell:
Heaps said Antonio Delamea was seeing a specialist today for his fractured nose. "We're waiting to see what the next step is." #NERevs— Jeff Lemieux (@jeff_lemieux) June 26, 2017
Elsewhere, Daigo Kobayashi is listed as questionable with a hamstring strain, and did not travel for Saturday’s 2-0 loss at Toronto FC. Chris Tierney was unable to start due to an unspecified knock, and only played 20 minutes. Benjamin Angoua left the field in that game with a finger that was no longer shaped like a finger, while Andrew Farrell spent stoppage time with a pretty severe limp. It was a rough night at BMO Field, to say the least.
Our friends up at The Bent Musket have tried to tackle how the Revs will sort all of this out, and three different people put forward three different formations as a result. With the Revs having a very important league match on the weekend (they’re at Philadelphia, meaning the East’s bottom four are paired off), it’s tricky to sort out how Heaps will prioritize these two games.
My guess - and it’s a guess here, because there are so many variables - is that the Revs stick with the 4231 of the past few weeks (in part because they’re missing so many central midfielders that the diamond is hard to pull off):
Cody Cropper has been the starter in goal, but Brad Knighton has 54 league appearances spread across 10 MLS seasons. If Heaps wants to make sure his back-up is fresh, he can at least be calm in knowing he’s not sending a rookie out for his first pro game in a win-or-die cup match. This is pretty much a toss-up, with a slight edge towards a rotation just to keep Knighton sharp.
Farrell, as we mentioned, was really struggling to move at the end of Saturday’s game. With a big game on the weekend, I suspect Heaps rotates him out for London Woodberry, who played right back at TFC (Farrell was stuck on the left due to Tierney’s injury). Woodberry tends to have temper flare-ups and isn’t the best going forward, but he’s still a normally solid option to back Farrell up. Donnie Smith is not a natural right-sided player, but if Heaps opts to save Farrell and Woodberry for the weekend, he’s pretty much the only possible fullback left.
Given that Delamea was seeing a specialist on Monday, it seems like he’s someone we can rule out. The Slovenian will probably be replaced by Joshua Smith, a rookie who went from fourth round pick to early season starter. Smith is a beast in the air, but he’s not the best with the ball at his feet, and isn’t all that quick laterally. United might be able to take advantage of that. Despite his broken finger, Angoua figures to stay in the starting 11.
At left back, Tierney will probably captain the side unless that aforementioned injury is still too much for him to play from the start. As ever, Tierney is a gifted crosser of the ball, and an intelligent player, but he’s vulnerable to being beaten with speed. It’s also worth noting that Heaps appears to have been seeking out a successor for the 31 year old, whose grip on a starting job at left back has slipped noticeably. Donnie Smith is the only real alternative if Tierney is being preserved for the game against the Union.
In central midfield, Zachary Herivaux and Je-Vaughn Watson should start because they’re pretty much the last men standing. Watson is on Jamaica’s Gold Cup roster, but the same press release noting Koffie’s call-up has language that points to Watson only joining the Reggae Boyz sometime before their tournament opener rather than leaving right away.
Herivaux, for his part, has a lot of potential and covers a ton of ground. Paired with Watson, we would likely see them rotating who holds and who steps up to link play. If, however, Watson is not included due to his international duties, Heaps would have to sort between Kobayashi - who may not even be fit to play - or Farrell. Worst case scenario for the Revs? Having to play some kind of 4132 with Herivaux alone in defensive midfield, just out of a sheer lack of other options.
Teal Bunbury has been largely unable to increase his share of the attacking minutes, but with Rowe and Agudelo away with the USMNT he should see some starts. Most likely, that means getting the nod on the right wing (or as the other forward if the 4132 or diamond are used instead). Heaps could also go with sparkplug Femi Hollinger-Janzen, who is usually seen bringing a ton of energy and a knack for making things happen off the bench.
Heaps will have to decide whether Lee Nguyen can be risked with a game on the weekend. My guess is that, with said game on Sunday instead of Saturday and the Revs so short-handed elsewhere, we see him from the start. If New England opts to rest him, though, Diego Fagundez is more or less the only option. Kobayashi could play here too, but that would be a very conservative choice (not to mention that whole hamstring issue thing).
Fagundez is probably going to start on the left side, cutting inside as always to look for people to combine with. If he’s used to spell Nguyen, then Hollinger-Janzen seems to be the only other option available to take over on this side. Between Nguyen and Fagundez, this side of the field will be the major challenge for United. If the Black-and-Red shut down the creative hub for the Revs, they will make things significantly easier on themselves.
Up front, Kei Kamara didn’t start in Toronto, and though he’s not having a great season (4 goals at the halfway point, for Kamara, is outright poor), he’s still a major worry for United. This is an opportunity to prove he should be ahead of Agudelo, or at least that Heaps should keep playing with two forwards when everyone’s available. If the Revolution want to hold him for Sunday, though, they could turn to rookie Brian Wright. Judging by his zero appearances in league play, though, it seems like Heaps won’t trust him with a start.
Off the bench...well, as has been established, the Revs don’t really have many options. Hollinger-Janzen seems like a sure bet to sub in for someone (Fagundez, most likely), and Donnie Smith could replace Tierney to rest him if that knock is still a problem. By my count, if Delamea and Caldwell are both out, the Revs will probably have to carry Matt Turner, their third goalkeeper, just to have a full 18 man gameday squad.