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Sporting Kansas City vs. New England Revolution: Three Questions with The Bent Musket

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I spoke with Steve Stoehr of The Bent Musket ahead of Sporting KC's midweek match with another old Eastern Conference foe at Sporting Park. The home side look to continue a 3 game unbeaten strike while ending The Revolution's 9 game run.

Paolo is going to be getting the start in place of Roger Espionza. It will be only the fourth start, and first since March for the reliable Brazilian vet.
Paolo is going to be getting the start in place of Roger Espionza. It will be only the fourth start, and first since March for the reliable Brazilian vet.
Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

We ask them...

1)     Lee Nguyen is so much fun to watch and had a phenomenal season last year. Understandably so, he now feels he should be compensated better. Earlier this month he sat out a practice to show his displeasure the club would not renegotiate his contract. Where do the New England faithful stand on this tough situation?

TBM: I think it's a little complicated, to be honest. Lee is a huge fan favorite in New England, and everybody loves him. I don't think there's a single fan out there who doesn't believe that, in a perfect world or richer league, Nguyen should be getting paid. Unfortunately, this is MLS, and with cap restrictions and reduced budgets, it doesn't always work out that way. There are a lot of fans here who are leery of this situation for that very reason.

Furthermore, Nguyen hasn't been particularly great this season, either. He still makes the offense work and sets the tempo, but one goal and two assists about a third of the way through the season is not what the Revolution faithful were expecting out of last year's MVP runner-up. If anything, it's starting to look like Nguyen has picked the worst possible time to have a contract issue, because he is definitely not playing like a guy who deserves more than the $175k or so that he makes now, or at least not much more.

And it's going to take some convincing to get the team to a point where they want to revisit this issue with him. Lee signed a multi-year deal in 2014 while he still had multiple years left on the deal he signed in 2013, which he had signed just one year after joining the team in 2012. The Revs are not and never have been a team that operates like that. For better or worse (usually worse, in my opinion), the Revs' organizational approach is more along the lines of "we have a contract, we don't have any reason to negotiate" rather than an approach of accommodation. They have no interest in going back to the negotiating table having been there so many times so recently with Nguyen.

They could be gambling that 2014 was a fluke, but this is really just how they do business. And in that respect, fans are really afraid of this situation, myself included. Lee would be just another in a long line of talented, important players who have left the club feeling slighted and upset because of the Revolution approach to contracts and negotiation. Most recently, the Revs managed to assuage the ego of one Jose Goncalves and keep him in a Revolution shirt after a contract row, but history teaches us not to be confident. There are some nerves in New England right now.

2)     How is our old buddy Teal Bunbury? He once had very high hopes with SKC but he was traded last year for a first round draft pick and allocation money. It took him a while, but he has started to show his potential with 2 goals and an assist. What are you hoping for from Teal this season?

TBM: When Teal was dealt to the Revs, I was hoping for 10 goals. Double digit goals was the target. After an absolutely abysmal first half of the season, it became very clear that whatever Teal Bunbury came up as a rookie in Kansas City was gone, and he wasn't going to give us those goals in 2014.

However, Teal has made the conversion from out-and-out striker to winger with aplomb, and now we're seeing all of his incredible talent on full display. He's firmly entrenched himself in a starting role as part of a dangerous attacking trio up front, and last season was the team's assists leader with his slashing runs and excellent technical ability on the right side. This season, we're hoping he pads his stats a little. It took Teal until the stretch run of the season to real come alive in 2014, and then he was a beast in the playoffs. From the looks of things, he's much closer to that form in 2015 than to the poor form that marked the start of 2014, so Revs fans are probably hoping that he can get somewhere in the neighborhood of 6-8 goals and maybe push for 10 assists.

3)      New England just missed an MLS cup last December. Despite dealing with injuries, including a sports hernia to DP Jermaine Jones, The Revs are just 1 point shy of 1st place and have not lost in 9 straight matches. Where they have been finding success and is silverware the expectation among fans?

TBM: The Revs are finding success mostly in working and playing as a unit. This is a team with amazing chemistry, and the core has been together for years now, making for a squad that works tirelessly for each other and has a lot of belief. The run to MLS Cup last season certainly contributed to the confidence factor, and the addition of Jermaine Jones was the last tipping point in the mental toughness department that turned this team from a good, young group to a hardened and dangerous contender.

Obviously the attack is the story, and the front three in particular are working the tactical system like it owes them money. Charlie Davies may not have all the blistering speed he once possessed before that awful car accident, but he has so much grit and guile now. He uses his whole body to play bigger than himself, and his movement has made him nearly unplayable at times. Juan Agudelo is adjusting to a winger's role, but his technique and skill, matched up with brutal size, is a nightmare for opposing defenses. And of course, we already talked about Teal.

The real surprise has been twofold: wide play and the development of Andrew Farrell. The former is shocking in the form of the danger posed by both fullbacks these days. Chris Tierney's left foot has long been feared in MLS, but in the last season or two he has put together the total package in terms of awareness, tactical nous, and skill as an attacking fullback. Perhaps most beneficial to him, though, has been the emergence of London Woodberry opposite him. Woodberry is a natural center-back, but he provides right-footed crossing ability the likes of which the Revs haven't seen at that spot in close to a decade. Teams can no longer overplay the left and take Tierney out of the game, thereby eliminating the Revs' width. They still have to contend with Woodberry, who logged his second assist in just a handful of games on Saturday night.

Farrell was moved to the middle from right-back, and immediately there were issues. Watch the tape on the 3-0 loss to Seattle and the 2-0 loss to NYC, and you will see a young, inexperienced defender getting eaten alive. His positioning was non-existent, communication was terrible, and for all of his amazing athleticism, his lack of chemistry with Jose Goncalves was causing him to leave nightmarish gaps in defense that other teams were all too happy to exploit. Since then, he's partnered with several different defenders, but in every game he has improved exponentially, to the point where he now plays like the team's best defender. His positioning has grown sound, he communicates well, and he works in near-perfect unison with his central defense partner.

As for the expectation of silverware, it's definitely present. Revs fans sense that they have a window here, and they want to win something. The Open Cup is an option, as is the Supporters' Shield, but most fans want the big one. They want MLS Cup, and for the first time in years, there's a real sense that they could get it.

The Bent Musket projected Starting XI and a scoreline prediction..

Shuttleworth; Tierney, Goncalves, Farrell, Woodberry; Caldwell, Jones; Agudelo, Nguyen, Bunbury; Davies

Beating KC in front of the Cauldron is nigh-on impossible, even if they don't have all their big guns. A draw would be a good result. Sporting KC 1-1 NE Revolution

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They ask us...

1. After years in the Eastern Conference, Sporting KC got bumped to the West for the 2015 season. In at least the last half-decade or so, the West has by and large been considered far more talented and competitive than the East. How's life on the other coast, and would you agree that is a tougher conference?

TBT: Well that's difficult to say so far actually. Ten games into the season, five have been against the East and another against Houston (who moved with us). Also much like past seasons... cough cough... success in that conference has continued with 11 of the team's 14 points won there. Unfortunately that of course means the Conference games have not been kind to Sporting. So yes, I have to agree the West is a tougher conference! But not by much! Despite the struggles so far, SKC Nation is definitely happy to have two games with Seattle and another go at RSL and LA this season.

2. Much is being made of a "shift" in philosophy for KC, away from the usual Peter Vermes 4-3-3 high press and into something different. Do you see a change in the way Sporting plays, and is it positive for the club?

TBT: With several versatile off season acquisitions like Bernardo Anor and Krisztian Nemeth, Vermes did flirt the idea of trying out new formations. But even in the preseason we didn't see much of a shift, and that has continued all season. Nemeth is scoring goals and looking great, but Anor hasn't worked out like PV hoped apparently. He was playing with first team in preseason and after starting the first game, we've barely seen him. That situation and more injury woes may both have played a role in sticking with the trusty 4-3-3. Which is probably for the best because despite the troubles, Sporting KC are in a playoff spot and within striking distance of the top.

3. Benny Feilhaber is...well, he's not a fan favorite here in New England. He spent two seasons here and underachieved, especially in that second season. Now, he's putting together an early campaign that's worthy of MVP conversation in Kansas City. What has changed or clicked for him that's bringing him into this kind of blistering form?

TBT: It took quite a transformation! One that lasted his entire first season here and inspired the idea of "Sporting Fit". Vermes has shown time and time again he does not mess around. He will bench anyone not performing without hesitation, as we've seen with Luis Marin this season. In that beautiful 2013 season it worked perfectly. He benched DP Claudio Bieler for Dom Dwyer who set the franchise single season scoring record a year later. Benny started at the beginning of that season before seeing himself be an unused substitute on the bench several times. In Vermes' system, he was required to have more defensive responsibilities than he was used to. To get on the field, Feilhaber had to become a box to box player. He didn't even start all the way into the playoffs that year! For me, this was the exact moment it clicked. What clicked exactly, is that he realized if he bought into the PV system, good things will follow. And maybe he realized Peter could actually help him become a better player. From that moment on, Benny Feilhaber has been absolutely incredible. He is a different player. He does everything, all over the field. DUDE PLAYED CENTERBACK FOR A MINUTE YOU GUYS! He has figured out he can create from anywhere on the field, and found a great instinct for when to get himself forward and when he needs to defend. The season he is putting together is most definitely deserving of MVP talk. If not for Dwyer missing some sitters and being called offside, he could be running away with it.

Please give us an under-the-radar player Revs fans should watch out for in this match.

TBT: No question... Jacob Peterson. He is a fan favorite, a player favorite, and possibly Peter Vermes' favorite human being. Jacob Peterson is The Answer. I mean that just as it sounds and also in that it is his nickname. He will play any position asked of him, and the man will sacrifice his body (and any body or object in his vicinity) to do his job. Although he may not be the guy you want starting every single game if you are to compete for titles, he is one of those guys you absolutely must have on the team if you want to win titles.
Graham Zusi has been sidelined since the last game with a concussion and it looks like SKC will be without his services again on Wednesday night. Keep an eye on Peterson because he will do something interesting at some point! He'll get bloody somehow, or play an awkwardly effective role in a goal, or if it gets chippy... you could see him yell at someone with every curse word every invented.

The Blue Testament projected Starting XI and a scoreline prediction..

(4-3-3) Tim Melia, Amadou Dia, Kevin Ellis, Matt Besler, Jalil Anibaba, Paolo Nagamura, Soni Mustivar, Benny Feilhaber, Jacob Peterson, Dom Dwyer, Krisztian Nemeth

Dwyer finds his form and gets the brace! Sporting KC 3-2 NE Revolution