The Blue Testament Asks The Bent Musket...
1) How likely is it we see Jermaine Jones in this game and what does he bring to the Revs lineup?
I'd say it's almost a certainty that you see him, but the real question is whether or not he'll start. He is clearly not 100% and the idea of rushing him back to start only to watch him go down with a fitness-related strain or pull is terrifying. That said, who else do we turn to? A.J. Soares? He's been dismal in his limited time as a defensive midfielder, and conversely has been far-and-away the team's best defender at center-back. Moving him seems illogical. Stephen McCarthy came up as a defensive midfielder, but hasn't played there since 2011, and is also listed as questionable on the injury report. Andrew Farrell played midfield in college and has worked there with the Revs in preseason, but if you move him away from right-back, you have to shuffle the whole back line around to accommodate the move. There's always Alec Sundly in Rochester, but I feel we would have heard about that by now. And finally, there's Shalrie Joseph, who was once one of the best in the business, but now can't stay off the injury report despite having not played a minute this season.
So, that pretty much sums it up. If he doesn't start, expect to see him come on for 25-30 minutes in the second half. If he does start, expect him to come out early in the second half.
2) The Revs have been baffling to me, winning six out of seven before going on to lose eight in a row. What went wrong during the losing streak and how are the Revs trying to adjust to it as the season enters its last two months?
You could point to any number of factors. For one, the losing streak started a game or two after Heaps shook up the winning chemistry by re-introducing a newly-healthy Jose Goncalves to the backline. It may see counter-intuitive to think that putting the reigning Defender of the Year into a lineup would be disruptive, but he hasn't played to that level this season, and it's a heck of a coincidence. That's just one theory though. There's also the fact that, during that unbeaten streak, the Revs were preying up on teams with midweek games and long travel schedules. They beat up on some tired legs and, while some people tried to say that it wasn't a factor, it clearly was.
During the losing streak, though, there were two enormous issues that really aren't covered by the above explanations. The Revs' attack misfired badly, constantly playing into the opponents' defensive schemes and, even when confronted with goal opportunities, demonstrated horribly wasteful finishing. At the same time, the defense regressed, and suddenly mental lapses and unforced errors became the norm. It may have been a combination of youth, hubris, and perhaps a lack of chemistry overall, but too much was going wrong all at once to be able to blame any one factor. At the end of the day, I don't think this team was ever as good as that seven-game unbeaten run may have indicated, but they should never have been bad enough to go winless in ten.
3) Outside of scoring that late goal against Sporting, how has Teal Bunbury been performing for New England? Has he been worth the first round draft pick?
Given the uncertainty of the draft, he's been worth that pick. Teal's combination of speed, size, skill, and experience is easily worth the speculative value of a collegiate player making the pro jump. However, I would not say that he's been performing up to snuff. He sits right now at three goals and four assists in 25 appearances, 23 of them starts. It's fair to say that more is expected out of a guy who scored nine goals in a healthy 2011 campaign and was once thought of as a future striker for the national team.
Now, granted, Teal is being used a little differently in New England. It became clear very early that he was not a target forward. Bunbury's first touch with his back to goal leaves a lot to be desired, and his hold-up play is inconsistent. With that in mind, he was shifted wide to a wing role, where initially he flourished. It's this move that has allowed him to take a share of the team lead in assists (four-way tie with four), and his mind-bending speed and quick feet terrorized defensive flanks. He combined well with Diego Fagundez, especially, the two of them forming the beginnings of an excellent partnership predicated on quick passing and diagonal runs. Then the wheels fell off, and Bunbury became best-known for dogged and determined defensive tracking, and squandering clear-cut chances.
He scored last Saturday, though, and hopefully that can spark a return to goal scoring form. His effort is unquestionable, and his ability to create with his speed and his goal-facing touches has been essential to any success the Revs have actually had, but his inconsistency and finishing issues have been a big disappointment.
The Bent Musket Asks The Blue Testament...
1.) Last time these two clubs met, the Revs were a team on a poor run, but poised to break out into a serious unbeaten streak. Thinking back to that night, why do you think the Revs were able to have success despite their lack thereof previously, and has Sporting adjusted sufficiently to prevent that?
I'm not going to blame the defensive collapse in that match on Aurelien Collin getting sent off but I cannot deny that the ejection played a factor considering both of the goals came in stoppage time, after the red card. I think it allowed the Revs more space to finish the chances they had been getting all game because, like you said, the Revs were poised to break out into a serious, unbeaten streak and the offense was clicking well. I think the Revs were able to have success in that game because they were able to hold Sporting's attack while also capitalizing on the chances they got towards the end of the second half. As for adjusting, I can't say that Sporting has been able to due to their roster turbulence. In that match, they had Chance Myers uninjured, Uri Rosell not transferred, and the defense clicking well. Now, they are missing a significant presence in the defensive midfield as they wait for Jorge Claros to adjust, they have a hole at right back as Igor Juliao attempts to get better on the job and the defense as a whole, particularly Aurelien Collin, has been playing uncharacteristically bad. It's a good time to be playing against Sporting's back line right now.
2.) I'm hearing that Benny Feilhaber is out for this match. How will SKC account for his absence?
Graham Zusi will likely slide back to the central attacking midfield role, which he is proficient at. I personally think he's better on the wing, so he might be a bit limited in the midfield but Sporting shouldn't lose too much creativity coming out of the midfield. The big thing is that Sporting usually has three excellent offensive threats with Feilhaber in the CAM role, Graham Zusi on the right wing and Dom Dwyer at center forward, but tonight they'll be missing two of those players. So while Sporting will have creativity in the midfield, they'll miss Zusi's presence on the wing. It'll likely be Toni Dovale and Soony Saad on the wings, which isn't a bad combination by any means but not having Feilhaber creates the shift I mentioned above, which leads to a less potent attack.
3.) The last two games Sporting played have resulted in uncharacteristic losses where opponents have posted 3 goals each. Kansas City is normally a benchmark for defense in MLS. What happened in those two matches? Why did the floodgates open? Is that a danger here?
The constant in both of those matches is that the goals all came in rapid succession and most of them were due to extremely poor defending. This includes failing to clear balls, losing marks and their offside traps getting beaten more than once. The back line as a whole looked lost in those past two matches and there really isn't one reason I can point to that would explain why they performed so bad in those matches. For this match, a lot of it will depend on which team shows up. The back line will need to be able to work their offside traps, they'll need to not give up as many counters and they will need to be able to clear the ball. This back line has shown the ability to go multiple games without giving up a shot on goal, and a lot of that is pressuring forwards into giving up the ball on a bad pass and not allowing them any space to get shots off. Lately, Sporting has been allowing too much space and if they continue to allow Bunbury, Nguyen and Fagundez space then it's going to be another long night for Sporting KC.
4.) Give us an under-the-radar player Revolution fans should watch out for in this match.
I'm going to go with Jorge Claros, who is Sporting KC's recently signed defensive midfielder. Claros is a Honduran international who played in the World Cup before joining Sporting KC and is now in the process of adjusting to Sporting KC's midfield. Claros is very tenacious and physical, something Sporting KC has really missed since Rosell transferred to CP Sporting. While he hasn't exactly been a standout in his brief time in Kansas City, he's a decent midfielder and has the potential to really be a force once he adjusts like Feilhaber last year and Rosell in 2012. For this match, it's likely he'll be paired with Lawrence Olum in the midfield. Having another defensive midfielder with him will allow him to roam around the midfield more and go box-to-box instead of just staying back. He could be dangerous if allowed too much space.
5.) Finally, let's have your projected starting XI and a scoreline prediction.
Kempin; Juliao, Ellis, Besler, Sinovic; Claros, Olum, Zusi; Dovale, Bieler, Saad.
Scoreline: 2-1 Revs.