Ahead of the 2014 MLS Cup final, LAG Confidential exchanged questions with New England Revolution blog The Bent Musket. Here are there answers to my questions:
1. How has Jermaine Jones changed the shape of New England? Is his offensive contribution overlooked in discussing his defense?
The addition of Jermaine Jones didn't really change New England's shape, although you could argue the Revolution play more of a 4-2-3-1 now than Jay Heaps' staple 4-1-4-1 over the majority of the last two seasons. Basically, Jermaine Jones takes a lot of the defensive and deeper distribution away from Lee Nguyen, which lets the Revs leading scorer stay further up field and do what Lee does best in 2014: create chances and mostly score them himself. Jones along with Scott Caldwell have solidified the holding roles in front of the Revolution's defense as well, giving a defensive unit that has struggled at times earlier in the year. But I don't think Jones' offense is overlooked, his performances at the World Cup and the last few months in MLS has shown he's a tremendous two-way player. Jones also gives the Revs an aerial threat on set piece situations and contributes with late runs out of the midfield, and Jones' two game-winning goals in the regular season are a testament to just how talented he is on both sides of the ball.
2. Lee Nguyen has been a goalscoring machine as an attacking midfielder this season. What happens in the New England attack that allows him so many opportunities?
Where to begin with how brilliant Lee Nguyen has been...the number one thing Lee does better than probably anyone in MLS right now (and perhaps in the USMNT player pool) is as an attacking midfielder he finds the space between opponent's defensive and midfield lines without the ball. So when he does get the ball in the center of the field, he has room to either take on a defender or find a teammate and pretty much every time he shoots from inside the box it's on target. But it's when the Revs get out on the counter that he's especially dangerous because it's harder for teams to step up and slow him down without giving him open passing options.
There's also been a lot of silent play from Lee's teammates. In order to create some of that space, the rest of the Revs attackers, mainly Charlie Davies up top and Teal Bunbury and Kelyn Rowe out wide, have to position themselves to occupy their opponent's backline. And those three, especially Davies, have been very good at that over the last few months so that even while Nguyen and Jones are filling up the scoresheet, there's a real team effort to a lot of the Revolution's goals.
3. New England got through some high flying playoff series with their ability to score and score, but they also let New York create a fair number of chances. Is this a team which can grind out a 1-0 result if it has to?
This is the million dollar question, because if there's one weakness or noticeable pattern the Revs have it's their inability to protect a lead. One of the biggest knocks on the Revs going into the playoffs was they were winning a lot of games very late toward the end of the season and they spend long stretches inviting pressure and conceding goals because of it. They're one of the most dangerous teams either down a goal or tied and New York should've probably scored about 3 or 4 more goals against the Revs in the Eastern Conference Finals. With that said, the goals that the Red Bulls did score all came on mostly second chance opportunities from very close range. We're all aware of how dangerous LA's attack is, but if the Revs can force longer shots not give up easy second chances, I think it's entirely possible New England can win a 1-0 type of game.
Jose Goncalves is still the 2013 Defender of the Year despite a rough start the year due to injury, and while he hasn't been as good as he was last year, he's still one of the league's best. A.J. Soares was one of the Revs most consistent players all year despite that dreadful stint at defensive mid in LA back in July. Andrew Farrell has been excellent throughout the playoffs on the defensive end and the left-back tandem of Chris Tierney and Kevin Alston give the Revs a more offensive or defensive look depending on how Jay Heaps views the matchup.
4. Is Bobby Shuttleworth an underrated goalkeeper?
Bobby Shuttleworth I think is properly rated, he's a good keeper by MLS standards but has a tendency to run hot or cold for long stretches. His first half of 2013 warranted a few mentions as far as an All-Star Game appearance but he eventually found the bench behind Matt Reis as the Revs made the stretch run into the playoffs. Early in the 2014 there were a lot of people that called for Brad Knighton to get a significant look as the Revs leaked goals but most of those were also heavily influenced by bad defense and Heaps stuck with Shuttleworth and he's arguably battle tested now. On his best day, Shuttleworth is as good a pure shot-stopper has anyone in the league, but at times his positioning and aggressiveness inside his penalty can be lacking when the Revs need it. If Shuttleworth is coming off his line and claiming or punching out balls near the penalty spot, than it's more than likely "good" Bobby has shown up for MLS Cup, and if you missed the two games against New York, "great" Bobby was there most of the time.