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Analysis: New England Revolution defense needs to catch up with attack

Apr 21, 2018; Columbus, OH, USA; New England Revolution forward Cristian Penilla (70) controls the ball against Columbus Crew SC defender Milton Valenzuela (19) in the first half at MAPFRE Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The New England Revolution and Columbus Crew SC traded blows in last Saturday night’s 2-2 draw at MAPFRE Stadium. The result marked the first time since April 2016 that the Revolution take points in back-to-back road games.

Here are three takeaways from the Revolution’s performance:

Finally, a Revs team that can compete on the road

Saturday’s game was a wide open, end-to-end affair from start to finish. The Revolution were in control from kickoff. They managed to consistently create chances, even when they were down by a goal.

Regardless, the Revolution have four of a possible nine road points so far this season. That’s huge progress, especially considering last season the Revs didn’t notch an away win until the final game of 2017.

Statistics and results only tell part of the story. One of the keys to New England taking a point from Columbus was the team’s resiliency. Though the game was so wide open that either side could have won, it was the Revolution that battled back from two deficits. They managed to get back on the front foot seamlessly, something that did not happen in away games last year.

At halftime on Saturday, Revolution head coach brad Friedel said his team was getting outworked and that it was “unacceptable.” Clearly, his squad got the message, as it went toe-to-toe with the Crew for the duration of the game.

If only the back line was as strong as the attack

Diego Fagundez is flourishing in the no. 10 spot, Cristian Penilla is showing himself to be a jack of all trades attacker and Teal Bunbury has rediscovered his clinical form.

The Revolution are having few problems putting the ball into the back of the net. They’ve scored 12 goals – tied for the fifth-most in the league – and appear to be a team that likes to build on its leads, not sit on them.

Conversely, the back line is in need of dire fixes. Andrew Farrell had an own goal and his counterpart on the left wing, Gabriel Somi, seems more content to attack than to defend – even though he’s spent an overwhelming part of his career at left back rather than left midfield. Somi struggled throughout the evening with marking Columbus attackers; his pace isn’t the problem (it’s an asset when he joins the attack) it’s his tackling and intercepting skills, or lack thereof.

Somi made one tackle and was tied for the lowest passing percentage of any outfield player on the pitch (69 percent). He also had a 33 percent tackle success rate and made one clearance.

Jalil Anibaba put in a strong performance, making a number of important blocks and clearances that kept the Revolution in the game. But his partnership with Claude Dielna may not be the optimum pairing at the back. Antonio Delamea is available on the bench.

Lee Nguyen is in the dog house

After a week’s worth of media and fan scrutiny involving Lee Nguyen and his lack of involvement on the game day roster, Friedel stuck to his script and again kept the out-of-favor starter off the gameday roster.

It’s a mystery how long the Revolution will keep a capable, chance-creating midfielder — making more than $500,000, according to the MLS Players Union — on the periphery.

Even so, the Revolution attack doesn’t seem to be missing Nguyen too much. It’s scoring goals and relying heavily on Fagundez and Penilla to create chances. Why fix what isn’t broken?

Aside from the fiscal costs of keeping an enormous salary sidelined, Friedel has made a legitimate, tactical decision.

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