BY CARL SETTERLUND
The New England Revolution have achieved some unlikely results of late, dating as far back as Bobby Shuttleworth’s stoppage time penalty kick save to preserve a tie against Chicago four weeks ago.
Since then, the Revs have taken three points against some of the league’s best competition in Sporting Kansas City, Toronto FC, and Seattle, whom they unexpectedly thrashed, 5-0, at home last Sunday.
With New England (5-2-3) unbeaten over its past five matches (4-0-1), could the trend of big wins continue this week on the road in Philadelphia (2-5-5), where the team has yet to win in six matches?
“We lost the first one against them (this year), and I can say, myself, I missed a couple of open chances that I probably would have finished right now,” said Diego Fagundez, who said he wants wants revenge for a 1-0 loss to the Union on March 15.
The Revs are 0-4-2 in six previous games at PPL Park, but overcame a similar mental block two weeks ago in Toronto after going 0-2-5 in their first seven games at BMO Field.
“You play a team twice and each team is different,” Revs coach Jay Heaps said. “Teams are different week to week. You get a good idea of tendencies, but overall teams change a lot.”
Fortune appears to favor the Revs again. As with the Sounders game, the Union will be coming in with tired legs after starting a full-strength lineup in its Wednesday win over Sporting KC, while Maurice Edu left early to join the U.S. Men’s national team camp.
SOARES UNHERALDED ON BACK LINE
Much attention has gone to the absence of Jose Goncalves or the emergence of Andrew Farrell, but another center back, A.J. Soares, has quietly played every minute of all 10 games for the team with the third-best goals against average (1.00) in MLS.
Soares was one of two players to play 5,000 minutes across the 2011 and 2012 seasons (Kevin Alston was the other), but he struggled for health last season, appearing in just 18 matches.
“One of my goals is to play all the games this year, so I hope I can hit that goal and if I keep helping the team I think they’ll keep putting me on the field,” Soares said.
With Farrell thriving at right center back, competition for playing time will ramp up soon as Goncalves was back out at training on Thursday morning. Heaps did not address a question posed to him on Thursday as to whether Goncalves will be in the lineup for the Philadelphia game.
One option would be to swing Farrell back to right back, pushing Darrius Barnes to the bench in a competitive back line rotation that also includes Chris Tierney and Alston.
“Every single defender we have deserves to be playing and would be on other teams, so it is what it is,” Soares said. “Guys are rotating in and Jose will be back soon and he’ll be on the field. The goal is just to keep getting shutouts and keep giving the team an opportunity to win.”
SOME WIND BENEATH REVS WINGS
New England looks to have settled in with an attack-minded triumvirate of Diego Fagundez and Teal Bunbury out wide with rookie Patrick Mullins up top.
While the hold-up play of Mullins has been a valued addition, Fagundez said the freedom to roam around into dangerous areas has assuaged he and Bunbury’s goal-seeking mentality.
“We’re not really playing one position, we’re really playing all three, so it’s nice that we can communicate and play all three of them,” Fagundez said. “It’s easier for us because then we defend a lot easier and we can attack with different styles.”
All three scored against the Sounders, with Fagundez picking apart DeAndre Yedlin en route to two goals, one of them an MLS Goal of the Week candidate.
Bunbury has settled in out right scoring twice the last three games and setting up a Fagundez goal last weekend in what he considers a temporary reassignment.
“My position, though, is a center forward, but I don’t mind playing out wide at all,” Bunbury said. “There’s different things that I like about playing out wide, and that’s definitely being able to get on the ball more where you’re facing the defenders.”
BENGTSON ONLY PLAYER LOST TO WORLD CUP DUTY
Whether you attribute it to luck, circumstance or a general lack of high-price signings, the Revolution had the fortune this World Cup cycle to only lose one player to national team duties, and that player is: Honduran forward Jerry Bengtson.
“Because of his qualifying and how he got his team there, I think he was a lock to make the team,” Heaps said. “It’s exciting for our team to have a representative because we have players that were close on a couple different teams.”
Bengtson is scheduled leave the Revs to join the Honduran camp on Sunday.
Running down the rest of the roster: Lee Nguyen is on the outside looking in for the World Cup, but might have played his way into a future cap or two, while Goncalves, even if healthy, was probably always a long shot to make Portugal.
Out of the Revs’ younger players, defender Andrew Farrell might have the best combination of talent and opportunity, but wasn’t yet on Jurgen Klinsmann’s radar.
ROWE RETURNS FROM HAMSTRING WOES
Kelyn Rowe made his return last Sunday, playing the final 20 minutes vs. Seattle after missing the previous six games due to a hamstring strain.
Although seven goals and eight assists in 2013 might earn most players a free pass back into the Starting XI, the Heaps regime has always valued players earning their minutes, and the coach was noncommittal on how Rowe would be reincorporated.
“We’re getting players back, and it’s good to have a group to choose from, and players are fighting for spots every day,” said Heaps, who has the benefit of a central midfield group with in-form players in Nguyen, Andy Dorman and Daigo Kobayashi.
Another of the Revs’ young stars, Fagundez, remembers what it was like to have to earn a spot in Heaps’ starting lineup, and said Rowe knows the drill.
“It’s nice that Kelyn’s back on the team,” Fagundez said. “He wants to get on the field and play, but he knows we’re playing well and he’s still fighting for his spot.”
Expecting New England to break its winless streak at PPL Park? Which defensive lineup should the Revs go with when Goncalves returns? Should Heaps start Kelyn Rowe or keep the midfield intact?
Share your thoughts below.