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New England Revolution

Major questions face struggling New England Revolution

Julian Gressel and New England Revolution forward Cristian Penilla
Apr 13, 2019; Foxborough, MA, USA; Atlanta United defender Julian Gressel (24) and New England Revolution forward Cristian Penilla (70) battle for the ball during the second half at Gillette Stadium. (Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports)

The New England Revolution’s early-season plight continued against Atlanta United on Saturday night with a 2-0 loss. The result leaves the Revs in the basement of the Eastern Conference.

Here are three takeaways from the performance:

Revolution trot out jerry-rigged defense

Let’s get the positive out of the way first: Revolution right back Andrew Farrell put up an admirable performance in central defense Saturday night, helping anchor a makeshift back line that had three of four players out of their natural positions.

He made several goal-saving tackles, blocks and clearances, but was also up front about his failure to properly defend Hector Villalba on the play that led to Atlanta’s opening goal.

“My mistake on the first goal kind of doomed the team,” Farrell said. “Getting that goal away probably gave them a little boost and kind of opened the game up.”

Earning a positive result against Atlanta was going to be a tall task with a lack of defensive depth and missing left back Edgar Castillo (calf) and centerbacks Antonio Delamea (knee) and Michael Mancienne (suspension). But the back line put out by coach Brad Friedel Saturday – with central midfielder Luis Caicedo at right back, Farrell out of position in the middle and next to Jalil Anibaba, and midfielder/right back Brandon Bye on the left flank – is the result of a total front office failure.

Gabriel Somi, a left back in perfect health, didn’t even make the bench despite making $425,000, according to the MLS Players Union. He hasn’t made an appearance this season and was relegated to the fringes for most of last year, too, and is now taking up an international roster spot and eating salary cap money because the club failed to move him.

Beyond that, the defensive depth shows total laziness and naïveté – as if it was impossible for more than one central defender to be unavailable at the same time.

The Revolution have conceded at least two goals in four of the seven games they’ve played this season – four of which have been at home.

A rookie fired only shot on target

New England’s woes don’t stop at the back.

The team’s attack is in awful form as well.

No center forward has yet to fire a shot on target this season. The only effort on frame Saturday night came from Tajon Buchanan, a rookie who entered the match off the bench.

Friedel said his side “needs to be a bit more ruthless” in front of goal, but so far none of his or his staff’s efforts have made a difference on a consistent basis.

New England has scored just five goals this season – the second-fewest in MLS – none of which have come from a true striker.

Carles Gil accounts for three of the team’s goals, but Atlanta, like Columbus Crew SC earlier this season, showed teams can effectively turn off the Revolution’s attack by neutralizing Gil in midfield.

This might be as good as it gets

Friedel got the benefit of the doubt for missing the playoffs in 2018 because it was his first year with the Revolution and he couldn’t claim ownership for how most of the roster had been constructed prior to his arrival.

Those excuses are no longer legitimate. The sample size on Friedel is now quite substantive, and it doesn’t paint a rosy picture.

Statistics show the New England Revolution are one of the worst teams in the entire league. They’ve lost five games – three at home – and swap players in and out of a starting XI that doesn’t seem built for much more than pressing. Starters like Diego Fagundez and Luis Caicedo don’t seem to have clear, defined roles in the team’s current system, while veterans like Teal Bunbury and Juan Agudelo look like shells of their former selves. Even Cristian Penilla, the team’s reigning MVP, has floated in and out of the starting XI and hasn’t matched his form from last year.

What was striking Saturday night was how Atlanta beat New England at its own game. Atlanta pressed the guts out of the Revs to generate turnovers, but also managed to calm things down when necessary and play a possession game.

That style of play is precisely what Friedel has been trying to instill in his team for the last two seasons.

The Revolution got dispossessed 18 times Saturday, compared to just five times for Atlanta. The defending MLS champion also bossed possession 53.3 percent to 46.7.

Friedel now has an all-time MLS coaching record of 11-18-12. He has a home record of 9-7-5 – just barely above .500.

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