The Revolution were looking to respond with a win against the Colorado Rapids after a rough season opener in Philadelphia, losing 2-0 to the Union after losing two of their starting center backs to red cards, and playing the majority of the game (the second red card was issued in the 86th minute) with 10 men.
Brad Friedel and the Revolution proved to be up for the challenge as they earned a 2-1 win over the Rapids on their home opener in Foxborough. The win was driven by solid performances from the Revolution's homegrown players (Diego Fagundez and Scott Caldwell) and an organized back four.
Let's look at the starting 11:
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Friedel decided to come out in the same 4-2-3-1 that he started against the Union in the season opener. However, with center backs Claude Dielna and Antonio Delamea still on suspension following their red cards earned against the Philadelphia Union, adjustments in personnel had to be made. Friedel decided to go with experience at center back, giving Jalil Anibaba and Andrew Farrell the nod at left center back (LCB) and right center back (RCB), respectively. To the right of them, rookie Brandon Bye started at right back (RB). On the left side, Gabriel Somi started at left back (LB); although he was quickly replaced by Chris Tierney after suffering a head injury in the 15th minute. The only change (from the lineup against Philadelphia) in the midfield was at right wing (RW) where Friedel moved Teal Bunbury to forward (F) and replaced him with Kelyn Rowe. Matt Turner got his second-career MLS start in this match.
I want to add a quick note regarding the rating system that I am going to use for the player ratings. I am going to include the overall match rating assigned to each player by WhoScored.com (one of the more accurate and reliable performance indicators available for professional soccer). Their scale is from 1-10 (1 being extremely poor and 10 being excellent) and is based on an algorithm that includes over 200 raw statistics garnered by the website in real-time. I'm also going to include my grade of the players. My scale will also be from 1-10 (1 being extremely poor and 10 being excellent), however it will only increase/decrease by half points and will include factors determined - by me - outside of the statistics.
Let's start with the back four and move forward...
Andrew Farrell: WhoScored.com rating, 6.93; BSJ rating, 7.5
Given the circumstances that the Revolution were without their two "starting" center backs, and that Farrell typically plays RB for the Revolution, I thought he was a good choice at RCB. Paired with Anibaba during this game, Farrell offered a composed and reliable option for the Revolution to play out of the back within this match. His distribution out of the back was thoughtful and accurate which assisted in times when the Revolution were looking to build their attack. The video I've put together below displays some of the better passes that he made in this game.
Gabriel Somi: WhoScored.com rating, 6.29; BSJ rating N/A
Because Somi only played 15 minutes before leaving the field with an injury, I'm not going to assign him a rating for this game. Video of his aerial collision with Jack McBean is below.
Chris Tierney: WhoScored.com rating, 7.30; BSJ rating, 7.5
Gave the Revolution exactly what they needed at the LB role in this game. He was poised in high-pressure situations, played well alongside Anibaba, provided in-swinging corners on the right side with his left foot (nearly beating Howard on one corner in the 37th minute), and made defensive plays when they were necessary. Tierney also had a part in the Revolution's first goal by winning a tackle that landed at Zahibo's feet. Despite playing fewer minutes than most players on the field after coming on as a substitution, Tierney led the team in touches with 88, the next-closest Revolution player was Bye with 70. Of course, Tierney also had the game-winning goal on a free kick in stoppage time, beating Tim Howard to the near post after the ball deflected off of the Rapids' six-man wall.
Jalil Anibaba: WhoScored.com rating 6.46; BSJ rating, 5.5
He has a significant number of starting minutes under his belt as a professional and it certainly showed in this game; especially considering he normally plays as a right back. Anibaba did a fantastic job of establishing a physical presence early on in the game to ensure that the Rapids' forwards never felt comfortable. Most of the Rapids' chances during this game came from the outside of the field in the form of a cross. Anibaba also brings a strong aerial presence to the back line and this was evident when he tracked forwards into the midfield and tagged them into the Revolution's own box to win challenges. However, for everything Anibaba did well, there was more he did poorly. Nearly every time he won a tackle or a header, the ball would land at the foot of a Colorado player. On top of that, any pass he made over 20 yards was sure to end up out of play or in Colorado's possession. It was a good thing Farrell distributed so well out of the back during this game or the Revolution would have had serious trouble building possession from the back. On top of the poor passing display, Anibaba was the one to hack Jack McBean down in the Revolution's penalty area. McBean had his back to goal with Farrell on his back and the ball bouncing away from him. Anibaba came in and attempted to clear the ball up the field, but instead came through McBean's left leg resulting in a clear decision for a penalty.
Brandon Bye: WhoScored.com rating, 6.06; BSJ rating, 6.5
Brandon Bye played right back during this game and did well defending Colorado's 3-5-2. When an opponent plays in a 3-5-2, it can add responsibility for the outside backs because the outside midfielders in the 3-5-2 often sink down deep to receive the ball from the three defenders (almost as an outside back) and play high as a winger when in the attacking third. Bye played well positionally and showed a promising ability to get forward in the attack at good times. Playing on the same side as Rowe (who tends to drift centrally), Bye did a great job of overlapping when Rowe was on the ball, and moving into the empty space after Rowe moved centrally. This movement resulted in an earned corner in the first half after an attempted cross and 3 shots (two were blocked, and one was off target). After assessing Bye in his first two games he could prove to be a versatile option for the Revolution. Given his attacking tendencies, I'm curious to see if Friedel ever considers moving him into a winger position. This would leave Friedel with more options at the front six. You can see what I mean by his attacking tendencies on this map below. It shows the spot on the field where each player spent most time on the field. Bye's (#15) average position was practically right next to Kelyn Rowe on the wing.
Wilfried Zahibo: WhoScored.com rating, 6.99; BSJ rating, 6.5
Offers size and strength in the midfield for the Revolution. In this game, Zahibo's other central midfielders were Caldwell and Fagundez, who both stand 5-7, 150 pounds. Needless to say, Zahibo is a good addition in the midfield because he can win headers on set pieces and goal kicks. Zahibo is also one of the bodies the Revolution put in a zonal position on defensive corners. In this game, Zahibo did a great job of winning the ball off of Colorado's midfielders (a couple of which you can find in the video I put together below) and sitting in front of the two center backs. His positioning puts him in the best spot to play to his strengths and keep the Revolution defensively sound. He also drew the free kick that ended up being the game-winning goal. Unfortunately, Zahibo was generally poor in his passing (see examples in the video below). His pass accuracy percentage (60.5%) was the second lowest of any Revolution player on the field for this game leading only Gabriel Somi, who left the game after 15 minutes due to injury. Zahibo would have been much more valuable to the Revolution in this game if he kept the ball for them more. Often he would forego making the simple pass by attempting to make more happen than he should. Going forward, I hope that his passing improves or he opts for the simple pass more often, allowing the playmakers to create opportunities.
Scott Caldwell: WhoScored.com rating, 6.83; BSJ rating, 8.5
Caldwell was one of the best players on the field for the Revolution against the Rapids. The homegrown player was everywhere in the midfield making tackles (WhoScored.com has him tied for most tackles in the game alongside Zahibo at four) and finding space in the midfield to get the ball. Caldwell has a motor that allows him to make great runs in the midfield that support both the defenders and the wingers/forwards. His play may go unnoticed among many but without it, the midfield would not have been as effective. The video below provides a prime example of what Caldwell provides for the Revolution. When Gabriel Somi gets on the ball, he immediately looks up and is closed down by Marlon Hairston. He then hesitates, puts his head down for a brief second, and takes a touch away from Hairston. Caldwell, who was running across the field as Somi received the ball, sees Somi's hesitation and realizes he's being closed down quickly, checks into the space and plays the ball down to Zahibo on his first touch, and Zahibo moves the Revolution out the other way by switching the ball. Great stuff.
Diego Fagundez: WhoScored.com rating, 7.43; BSJ rating, 8.0
The other homegrown player is arguably the Revolution's most creative. The position he plays (and the heavy defensive responsibility from Caldwell and Zahibo) allows him to float into the wings to get on the ball and create plays. Fagundez will also start many of his runs from a forward position; which draws the opponents' CDM deep and opens space for the other two midfielders. Many of his runs will end on the wings beyond the wingers, allowing him to combine with them or play down to them before making another run forward. Looking at his heat map below, you can see he often floats elsewhere on the field for most of the game which makes him a nightmare to defend.
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Of course, Fagundez also got the Revolution's first goal of the season in this game on a counter attack shortly after halftime. He held his run above the last line of Colorado defenders as Penilla dribbled down the left side of the field towards the Colorado goal. When Penilla cut inside, Fagundez angled his run toward the net, received the square ball from Penilla and shot the ball through two Colorado defenders and the legs of Howard.
Cristian Penilla: WhoScored.com rating, 6.79; BSJ rating, 7.5
He is going to be a handful for defenders to defend this season. Before being subbed off shortly into the Philadelphia game following Delamea's red card, Penilla only had 27 minutes on the field and garnered seven touches. We got to see more of him in this game and he has serious pace. Penilla is able to close down on loose balls and opposing players quicker than any other player on the Revolution. In the GIF below you can see he turns a 50/50 ball into his in no time. His attacking ability on the wing is something Friedel should be looking supplement with creative players that can put him in dangerous spots. We saw this when Németh came on the field and laid off the ball to Penilla at the top of the box for a shot. Going forward, I see Penilla working better with Németh at forward compared to Bunbury. Note, it's worth keeping an eye on his defensive accountability as he tends to stay higher as a winger.
Kelyn Rowe: WhoScored.com rating, 6.23; BSJ rating, 6.5
He had a solid performance for the Revolution against Colorado, playing on the right wing in front of Brandon Bye. Rowe is a veteran of the league at this point in his career and it shows on the field. Rowe brings experience and poise to the lineup regardless of the position that he plays. He has proven his versatility in the past playing various roles for the Revolution. The GIF below shows Rowe's brilliant touch with a Colorado defender right on top of him.
Teal Bunbury: WhoScored.com rating, 5.81; BSJ rating, 5.0
For someone as strong and as fast as Bunbury appears to be, he does a poor job of holding the ball up for the Revolution. His job as the lone forward in a 4-2-3-1 is to find channels that midfielders or defenders can find him in, receive the ball, and hold it up or lay it off to supporting players so that wingers or midfielders can get in behind him and the Revolution can move forward with their attack. Bunbury struggles when he has a defender on his back despite his size and often gives the ball away when it comes to him. He is especially poor in tight spaces and doesn't create many scoring opportunities on his own. With players like Fagundez, Penilla, and Rowe making up most of the Revolution's attacking roles it was no surprise that Bunbury struggled to connect with them. Bunbury is more of a physical presence up front, wielding decent speed over 10 yards and an aggressive body going forward. This profile does not match the styles of the three players I just mentioned. Keep an eye on Friedel and who he decides to start in the front six against NYCFC. I wouldn't be surprised if he adjusted to a more creative, possession-based lineup; especially against a team that presses as hard as NYCFC.
Krisztián Németh: WhoScored.com rating, 6.32; BSJ rating, 7.5
Németh is everything that Bunbury is not. Németh is more creative — both on and off the ball — than Bunbury is and works better in tight spaces. We have seen Németh work well with Fagundez in the past (see the Revolution's last game of the season in 2017) and we can only hope to see more of it in the future. All eyes should be on Friedel moving forward as he tries to solidify a front six that works well together. Unfortunately, Németh won't be available for NYCFC because he has international duty. The GIF below shows the play I mentioned above with Penilla. Penilla plays into Fagundez, who plays the ball into a checking Németh, who lays it off for Penilla. Penilla wasn't able to connect with the ball very well, however, these are the plays Friedel should be encouraging.
Juan Agudelo: WhoScored.com rating, 6.09; BSJ rating, 6.0
We didn't see much of Agudelo in this game as he was subbed on in the 84th minute. He was able to make a couple of plays in the short time frame, including a shot over the net after a pass from Németh, and taking a ball down off his chest from a throw-in just before Tierney's free-kick was drawn.
Matt Turner: WhoScored.com rating, 7.87; BSJ rating, 8.0
Matt Turner had an overall good performance in the home opener. He made a great save on Jack Price on the penalty kick in the 53rd minute and made three other saves throughout the game. In his first start against Philadelphia last week, it was easily observed that Turner was overly excited and nervous from the first whistle. In the 3rd minute, Turner got his first touch on the ball and appeared so frantic that you could see Dielna motioning to him to relax. This game was much different. From the start of the game to the final whistle Turner was confident on the ball. He generally made good decisions throughout the game except for the one mistake that came in the 66th minute when a hesitation resulted in the Rapids' only goal. When Johan Blomberg gets on the ball, you can see he picks his head up and sees Niki Jackson motioning for a ball over the top. He then puts his head down and his body language tells the Revolution defense and Turner that he's going to play a ball over the top. You can see that Turner instinctively reacts and begins to move toward the lofted ball. Then he hesitates before deciding to try and win the ball in the air. In situations like these where the ball is served into the box, a goalkeeper needs to make a decision to challenge for the ball or to remain in position to make a save or hope one of his defenders can win the challenge. When deciding to challenge a 50/50 ball, a goalkeeper should never hesitate before attacking it. This is a good example of the consequences as a result of a hesitation in decision-making.
Defensive pressure: It is no doubt after this game that Friedel has his team focused and organized as a unit. There have been several situations in which you can see the excitement and belief that these players have in each other. You could see it after Turner saved the penalty taken by Price in the 53rd minute and after Tierney put the icing on the cake in stoppage time. The players believe in each other and they believe in Friedel. This is a good sign from a team that missed the playoffs last season. Having said that, none of the excitement means anything if they cannot stay organized — offensively and defensively — for 90 minutes. The Rapids came out in a 3-5-2 and the Revolution has answers for it on the defensive end. When Colorado had the ball in possession at their backs, the Revolution morphed into a clear defensive 4-4-2 (out of their 4-2-3-1). Fagundez moves out of the midfield — level with Bunbury — which limits the options for the Colorado defense to find their midfielders. There was a prime example of this early in the first half. I've broken down the film for you to see below. When the ball goes wide into Colorado's left midfielder (Édgar Castillo) you can see the Revolution are in good shape (4-4-2) designated by the two red lines (you cannot see Zahibo because he is just out of the frame, but he is in position). When Castillo begins to bring the ball in the middle, you can hear a player (or coach, I'm not sure where the mics on the field were) yell, "Go, go, go." Caldwell then breaks out of the midfield and puts pressure on the Colorado backs as the ball swings from the center back to the right back. The ball is then played over the top for a 50/50, which is won by Anibaba. The team was disciplined in this approach throughout the game and it helped to create disruptions between Colorado's defense and midfield.