It feels weird to say it, but Saturday will see D.C. United arguably favored in a game for the first time in months. Between injuries and the fact that this season has slowly drifted out of their hands (3W-0D-6L run since mid-June), the New England Revolution are a bit difficult to get a read on. The talent is there, but the table - the Revs are 7 points from a playoff spot - doesn’t lie.
Jay Heaps has mostly played a 4132 recently, but he deployed a somewhat fluid 4141 in their 2-1 road loss to NYCFC, and has played plenty of 4231 this year as well. We’ll work under the assumption that Jay Heaps will deploy a 4132, but the 4141 and 4231 are both distinct possibilities.
In goal, Cody Cropper has been a stable upgrade for the Revs. While he’s not exactly knocking on the door of becoming one of MLS’s elite goalkeepers, he’s solid and doesn’t make major mistakes. If the Revs lose this game, it’s probably not going to be Cropper’s fault.
Normally Andrew Farrell would be the clear first choice at right back, but Heaps has done some...interesting things there recently. Last week, Farrell was on the left, with career center back Benjamin Angoua on the right to make room for transfer window signing Claude Dielna. Dielna is supposed to be a left back/center back, but he was in the middle while Farrell moved over to the left for unclear reasons.
In any case, it could be Farrell on the right, or Angoua, or London Woodberry stepping in. The lack of a clear reason behind the moves Heaps made last week makes it hard to sort through any of this. Regardless of who starts, though, don’t look for too much in overlapping attacking play.
On the left, the obvious choice to start should be Chris Tierney, but Heaps appears to have lost all faith in his former captain. That’s where the positional awkwardness of this whole back four really starts, and with other potential left backs being used elsewhere (Dielna) or in some kind of weird roster limbo (Donnie Smith, 5 years into his MLS career, still has just 6 total appearances), it seems like Farrell will get the nod.
With Dielna apparently more of a center back than a left back in Heaps’ eyes, he’ll probably partner Antonio Delamea at center back again. However, we could easily see Dielna on the left, Farrell on the right, and Angoua back playing alongside Delamea as well. In any case, United might have an advantage battling for crosses in the air, and the Revs don’t seem to handle being forced to turn and chase very well either. Overall, this team has been bleeding goals recently, with opponents scoring two or more goals on the Revolution in seven of the last nine games. In four of those games, the Revs conceded three or more goals.
If the 4132 is in place, Gershon Koffie is the best option to start as the lone defensive midfielder. For one, Xavier Kouassi is questionable with a knock picked up last weekend. More importantly, Koffie’s mobility is a big factor here; the reason this formation has gone out of vogue is that a #6 with no one around to help him can easily be overloaded by the crowded midfields seen throughout the league.
Teal Bunbury has had a resurgence of late, with all five of his starts this year coming from July 2nd onward. He has all 5 of his goals on the season in that span, and has even been chosen as a forward ahead of Juan Agudelo a couple of times recently. In this formation, with the injuries involved in their midfield, he’ll almost certainly be on the right wing. As ever, Bunbury is fast and physically strong, and he might be more dangerous than normal now that he has some of his mojo back.
With Kelyn Rowe out 6-8 weeks with a knee injury, the job of actually creating will largely fall on the attacking midfielder, but who that will be is a question mark. Agudelo went back to the role he played back in March a couple of weeks ago, and since then Heaps has used Lee Nguyen and then Rowe in that spot. Nguyen makes the most sense, but you might be sensing a theme about whether “makes the most sense” is actually that important to Heaps right now.
Essentially, one of Nguyen or Agudelo will play in the midfield, and the other will play as a withdrawn forward if this 4132 is maintained. This will probably be fluid throughout, with the Revs looking for Agudelo making late runs when he’s in the midfield or looking to find Nguyen’s feet if they play Agudelo as a second forward.
On the left, normally we’d be seeing Diego Fagundez, but he’s listed as questionable after taking a blow to the head in stoppage time last week. If he’s not ready to go, Heaps will probably lean on Scott Caldwell. Caldwell isn’t a natural fit in this role, but without Rowe, no one else is either. This may be the biggest influence on moving to a 4141 or 4231, with Agudelo playing wide left and Caldwell joining a central midfield trio instead of going with two forwards.
Up top, we’ve already discussed the second forward issue, so let’s talk about their #9. Kei Kamara has somehow quietly scored 8 goals and provided 4 assists in 22 games this year, with his biggest media impact on the season coming when he got fined for wearing non-sponsor-provided socks. Nonetheless, anyone coming in with 5 goals scored in the last month is someone worth worrying about, particularly given his aerial ability and the fact that Steve Birnbaum is out.
Off the bench, the injuries have left New England with little to offer. Daigo Kobayashi can plug into the wide midfield roles here, or as a linking midfielder in either version of the 451, but he’s not necessarily going to break the game open. Krisztian Nemeth was their big transfer window move, but the Hungarian hasn’t played an official game since the spring, so it’s hard to imagine he’ll be particularly sharp (and likely only able to play 15 or so minutes). Femi Hollinger-Janzen hasn’t been used much recently, but he could provide energy and speed on the wing if needed.