New England Revolution: Three Points before FC Cincinnati

Allan Cruz (15) crosses the ball in the first half of the MLS soccer match between FC Cincinnati and New England Revolution on Sunday, July 21, 2019 in Cincinnati.Fc Cincinnati Vs Ne Revolution
Allan Cruz (15) crosses the ball in the first half of the MLS soccer match between FC Cincinnati and New England Revolution on Sunday, July 21, 2019 in Cincinnati.Fc Cincinnati Vs Ne Revolution /

The Eastern Conference-leading New England Revolution (4W-2D-1L) will trade in lobster rolls for Skyline Chili as they travel to TQL Stadium to take on bottom-of-the-table FC Cincinnati (1W-1D-3L) this Saturday.

New England encountered an early challenge last weekend, going down 1-0 against New York Red Bulls in the seventh minute. Instead of sulking at an early setback, the Revs responded with a winner’s resolve. New England dominated the Red Bulls following the goal, scoring in the 36th minute and forcing a raddled defender in Andrés Reyes into a red card in the 38th minute. The Revs capitalized on New York’s disadvantage en route to a 3-1 victory.

As week seven approaches, New England holds a slim one-point advantage atop the Eastern Conference over Orlando City, who has a game in hand.

Cincinnati Head Coach Jaap Stam is looking to turn the momentum from his team’s first win into the early upset of the season. After going winless for the first four games of the campaign, Cincy pulled off a 2-1 road victory over CF Montréal last weekend. Similar to New England, Cincy needed to demonstrate some grit to pull off a comeback. Down 0-1 in the 70th minute, Cincinnati fans may have been surprised to see Jürgen Locadia find the back of the net before Exon Vallecilla scored the winner in the 86th minute.

Can Stam’s men find a winner against New England? More importantly, they’ll have to find an answer to quiet New England’s potent attack.

Away We Go

It’s not shocking to say that New England has been one of the league’s best teams this season. What may be surprising is the Revs form on the road.

While Carles Gil and company have collected 12-of-12 points in Foxborough, they only have two points to show after three road games. A discrepancy reflected in their goal differential, where they have a +5 GD at home and a -1 GD on the road.

New England’s tough defense has remained challenging to break down even on the road, but its attack dips significantly on the road as they have only three goals away from Gillette Stadium.

Even with a talented cache of offensive weapons, unless they figure out how to play more cohesively on the road, the Revs will struggle to reach the lofty expectations placed on them early in the season.

A Ringing Endorsement

In last weekend’s preview, we discussed the rising midfielder, Maciel.

This week, let’s talk about the man who signed his first-team contract the same day as the Brazillian midfielder, that would be defender Jon Bell.

A 6’1 centreback who played for the University of Maryland, New England, acquired his rights from San Jose Earthquakes following a season in which he made 15 appearances for Revolution II in USL League One.

Bell went unused the first four weeks of the season in favor of Henry Kessler before being named in the starting eleven against Philadelphia Union. Since then, the Maryland native has remained a starter in both matches against Columbus Crew and New York Red Bulls.

The defender struggled in his first action against Philly but has since demonstrated the traits that caused Head Coach Bruce Arena to feature him. The American fits into Arena’s system as a ball-playing defender, comfortable with the ball at his feet, completing at least one dribble in each of his three appearances, and becoming an outlet for long balls. The latter being something Bell has shown consistent improvement on over the weeks. After going just 1-for-5 on long balls against Philadelphia, Bell has looked more comfortable going 6-for-15 since.

In terms of defensive prowess, the former San Jose draft pick is stout on the ground, winning 57% of his ground duels, although he has struggled in the air, something that should improve over time with his solid athletic ability.

The 21-year old has also proved to possess a keen sense of awareness, averaging two interceptions, 3.25 clearances, and one block per game.

Areas Bell needs work; look at his one-on-one defending, pressing ability, and aerial defending for areas to improve on. We’ll see if Arena gives his newest centreback a fourth consecutive start.

Looking for Answers

It’s fair to wonder if Jaap Stam has considered coming out of retirement to play in Cincy’s backline. For a defender as accomplished as Staam, it must hurt to watch his team concede at the rate they do.

Cincinnati is not only home to the infamous Cincinnati Zoo but also Major League Soccer’s worst defense. Even with the fewest games played, five, Cincinnati has allowed a league-high 14 goals. Their xGA is second-worst in the league at 13.0, behind Austin FC’s 13.3.

Staam has already begun tinkering with his plans, experimenting with personnel and switching from a 4-4-1-1 to a 5-3-2 last time out against Montréal. While that seemed to do wonders, everything is not what it seems.

Despite conceding just one goal, their fewest in a game this season, Cincinnati finished with a 3.1xGA, suggesting Staam’s squad got lucky. That figure also represented Cincy’s second-highest of the season, with their opening day draw against Nashville SC yielding a 3.4xGA.

Regardless of the team’s shape or who is in the backline, Cincinnati has struggled mightily against the league’s top teams this season, with a combined score of 0-8 against NYCFC and Orlando City; the struggles should continue against a fearsome New England attack.

Prediction: New England Revolution 2-0 FC Cincinnati