Since acquiring Kei Kamara back on May 12, the New England Revolution are 3-4-0 in MLS play with nine goals scored and a 2-2-0 home record. This is after going 1-3-7 in the 11 games prior to the Kamara trade, so there's some semblance of improvement there. But 1.28 goals per game and three home wins (good for second to last in the league) isn't good enough for a team that was expected by some to make things happen in the Eastern Conference. One pundit even predicted a Supporters' Shield.
It simply hasn't come together for them yet. Why? Well, for one, the central defense can't seem to defend as a unit at all. Andrew Farrell, their young center back already with over 1500 minutes played this season, is a liability in the air, and teams are constantly beating them with headers and final third second balls. It's gotten to the point where they've been starting backup full-back London Woodberry in the center with the one player they can count on as a pure defender, Jose Gonçalves. And while Woodberry hasn't been horrible, he isn't solving any problems.
As good as Scott Caldwell can be, he can't prevent Farrell and Woodberry and whoever else they start at center back from allowing a ridiculous amount of goals from crosses and set pieces. No wonder Bobby Shuttleworth is so mad all the time.
Even with their significant struggles in defense, their real problems originate in the attack, where they are supposed to have a large bundle of talent. Their offensive depth should theoretically rival that of any in the league with everyone they have: Kamara, Lee Nguyen, Teal Bunbury, Kellyn Rowe, Juan Agudelo, Charlie Davies, Diego Fagundez, and Femi Hollinger-Janzen make up their attacking core. However, Jay Heaps and co. have yet to figure how to put these pieces together.
Really, it shouldn't be that hard. Just use the Crew's formula for how to get offensive production with Kamara in the lineup: Hoof the ball into the box as much as possible. Columbus would let the full backs off their leash and have their No. 10, Federico Higuain, spray it to the wings, where one of Harrison Afful, Waylon Francis, Justin Meram and Ethan Finlay would whip it to Kamara's head. Make sure Kei is occupying a defender and get players rushing forward. It was simple.
New England have the personnel to do exactly that. Chris Tierney has the best left foot in the league — bar Brad Davis, maybe — and Fagundez can serve up as good a ball as anyone. Nguyen is among the best 10s in the league — right up there with Higuain — so he can be the distributor from the central areas. Get Nguyen to stay in the midfield and send Tierney flying up the right side, and then throw Kamara on the back-shoulder of a defender. Boom, goals.
Well, they haven't been doing that. Nguyen likes to drift over to the left side a lot, so they lose the distribution, and Kamara appears to be under direction to drop deeper instead of staying higher:
Thus, they fail to maneuver the ball forward and don't get nearly as much penetration as they would like. Tierney still overlaps a couple times a game and puts in threatening balls, and Fagundez has still been alright on the wing, but when it's not enough to get a home goal against NYCFC, you know something's wrong.
Their next game is again at home, this time against Columbus. The Crew have since changed their style a bit to fit the strengths and weaknesses of Ola Kamara, but they should be facing another iteration of their 2015 selves on Saturday in New England. That's the answer for Heaps's squad.
FC Dallas defeated Orlando City last week by a score of 4-0. While the main story of that game was Orlando's criminal and lethargic defending, the dominating victory for FCD showed what they can do to teams when their attack is in top form.
This season, it's been rare to see them at their very best. Mauro Diaz has been injured — although he's been MVP-worthy when healthy — and Fabian Castillo has not been able to find his blazing 2015 form. To be fair, Dallas are currently leading the Supporters' Shield race and are in a tie for the most goals scored this season, so it can't be that bad, but their attack still hasn't shown its top quality as much as it did last season.
When it's on, though, it's on. The firepower is too hot to handle for most teams:
I show you the full highlight video because there are too many plays from that game that prove my point, and this is the only way to show you all of them.
This team can be really, really good when it is in top form. Good enough, in fact, to win the Supporters' Shield.
Before that, however, they face the San Jose Earthquakes on Friday night. We'll see if they can keep it up.