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Evaluating New England’s win over Montreal: Do Revs even need a striker to score?

Mar 31, 2018; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Dynamo head coach Wilmer Cabrera embraces New England Revolution forward Cristian Penilla (70) after a game at BBVA Compass Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The New England Revolution extended their unbeaten run to four games on Friday night at Gillette Stadium in a 4-0 victory over the Montreal Impact. This is New England’s best start to the season since 2005, when the club went 11 consecutive games without losing.

Here are three thoughts on the Revolution’s performance:

1. Zahibo, man of the match

Revolution coach Brad Friedel alluded to Wilfried Zahibo being a two-way player in his postgame press conference.

Friedel’s words on Zahibo, who signed during the offseason, were: “One thing that was big when we scouted Wilfried is that he’s very good in both boxes. That’s scoring goals and defending set pieces…He will pop up with a few goals. He is very tall in stature.”

Zahibo’s first impression in preseason competition was that of a tough tackler with a propensity for getting cards. But so far in the regular season, he’s been both physical and precise.

He recorded an assist on Teal Bunbury’s goal — a slick, over-the-top pass that caught Montreal’s back line off guard. Then, he showcased his presence as a hulking player in the box when he put away New England’s fourth goal, off a corner kick.

Zahibo has helped the team transition from defending to attacking, and was valuable on the rare occasions Montreal threatened. New England, with Zahibo’s help, recorded its second clean sheet of the year.

2. Do Revs even need a striker to score?

Teal Bunbury is an early-season success story for New England. He’s got two goals through five games, though finding the back of the net is mostly a testament to his teammates. His goal last week against the Houston Dynamo was a result of good counter-attacking, while his goal Friday came from Zahibo’s precise passing.

That said, Bunbury has been effective in helping stretch opposing back lines. That tact has allowed New England to flood more players into the attack, particularly midfielders, which could partly explain why eight of the Revs’ 10 goals this season are from the run of play.

Diego Fagundez said after the game he feels the Revs can still get better as they adapt to Friedel’s system. That’s saying a lot coming from him – he leads the team with three goals and plays out of the midfield.

So far, it appears Friedel wants to maximize his talents in the center of the pitch and not rely on a poacher at the top of the lineup, like the club did in the last two years via Kei Kamara. New England has been harder to defend of late when the attack is spread out among three to six players.

If the forward – whether it’s Bunbury or someone else – is there to stretch the middle of the pitch so others can score, that’s a viable play, too.

3. VAR delay garbage

Even if referee Jose Carlos Rivero needed a second glance to confirm the penalty kick call, it should never have taken five minutes to allow the kick to be taken.

But that’s what happened, and Fagundez missed. Evan Bush made a nice save on the play, but you also can’t minimize the five minutes of delay for Fagundez to take his shot. That is a long time to think about where to place a penalty.

VAR has its shortcomings, time wasted being one of them. The penalty call and subsequent delay is just another wrinkle to VAR’s imperfections.

Fagundez told reporters after the game that he felt the delay on the call was just bad luck.

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