It's been a while since we've seen some Rapids soccer, but we're finally getting back in the swing of things with a three-game bonanza over the next 10 days. That will start with a home match against the New England Revolution, a team quite similar to our own over here. Since we're not quite as inundated with information about our Eastern Conference foes as we are about our Western Conference rivals, Steve Stoehr from The Bent Musket and I exchanged a couple questions ahead of the game tonight.
BW: We've been hearing a lot of Rookie of the Year talk around these parts because Dillon Powers has been playing out of his mind at times, but I'm curious about the first overall pick from that draft. How's Andrew Ferrell been doing in his rookie campaign?
TBM: Farrell's been a revelation. He has speed, technique, and defensive acumen, and all of those things have been on display this year. His final product at times leaves something to be desired - meaning his somewhat atrocious crossing ability and occasional propensity to misplace a pass - but overall he's locked down the right side of defense and performed admirably while doing it. He's started every game he's played, missing one through injury and one through suspension, and at this point his name is automatic on the team sheet.
Some, even here, have said that we're overrating him, and that's not impossible. Is he the best right-back in MLS right now? Absolutely not. Do we sometimes treat him that way? Well, of course. Does he deserve to be on the all-star team ahead of DeAndre Yedlin? You're damned right he does. Farrell has to be the consensus pick for Rookie of the Year right now and it's going to take a lot for some of the league's other first-years to knock him off that perch.
BW: New England finished a disappointing 9th in the East last year, what's the biggest key to the turnaround that the team has seen in 2013, where they're in the midst of a solid fight for a playoff spot?
TBM: This is a tricky question, because at this time last year, the Revs were still in 6th or 7th place and within a stone's throw of a playoff spot. In fact, some of the parallels from 2012 to 2013 are uncanny. New England was just two points better this season after 17 games than last season. The goals scored numbers were similar. The optimism was similar. And then they lost a match 2-1 (just like the loss to Houston on Saturday) and started a nosedive that became a ten-match winless streak. The thought that the same thing might happen again is lurking in the back of everyone's mind at this point.
Of course, the major difference between the two seasons is the defense. In 2012, the defense was young, inexperienced, and confused. In 2013, it's the best defense in MLS. The inspired play of Bobby Shuttleworth and the essential addition of Jose Goncalves - already the best defender in MLS and a sure bet for Defender of the Year and Newcomer of the Year if there's any justice in this league, which there is not - has transformed this club into a squad that can keep itself in games even if the offense misfires, which is going to be integral to any playoff push. It's also just a more experience, mature, and talented team throughout the roster. Hopefully that will be enough to carry this turnaround through the whole year, instead of just into July.
BW: Shamelessly copying you, give us an under-the-radar player from the Revs to watch out for on Wednesday.
TBM: Keep your eyes trained on young master Scott Caldwell. The Revs took him as a homegrown player after his senior year at Akron, where he was an offensive standout and a College Cup champion. He made the conversion to holding midfield - as many collegiate attacking midfielders do - and was set to compete with guys like Kalifa Cisse (Premier League pedigree), Clyde Simms (the incumbent and an MLS veteran), and Andy Dorman (known quantity with experience in Scotland, England, and at the international level with Wales) for a spot in the middle of the park. Even when the Revs settled on their current 4-1-4-1/4-1-2-3 look, it was expected that Caldwell would be a reserve and a project player whose impact would be most felt in years to come.
Well, he's appeared in eight straight games, starting six, and appears to have established a stranglehold on the position. He's not the most physical player, and given his size that was never going to be his game, but he has good positioning sense and an almost perturbing instinct to be in the right spot to clean up a loose pass or a botched tackle. Once he has possession, he possesses the soccer IQ to either slow play down with a simple lateral or back pass, or kick-start the attack with an inch-perfect ball from the deeper positions. It's too early to tell, but we may be in at the ground floor of the development of one of the better deep-lying midfielders in MLS right now.
I'm going to go out on a limb and predict a 1-0 Revolution victory. It's kind of a bold statement, since the Revs don't play so well on the road, but I think they can pull this one out. They'll have to, because they need a minimum of three points on this road trip to keep the playoffs realistic.
Thanks again to Steve, check out The Bent Musket for some late reading on the game tonight!
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