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RSL vs. New England: The Inside Look with The Bent Musket

MLS: New England Revolution at Real Salt Lake Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

One of my favorite SB Nation traditions is the pre-match interview — three questions, usually, with a writer focused on the opposition.

Jake Catanese and I have been writing with our respective sites for a similar length of time — 2013 for him at The Bent Musket, and 2012 (I think?) for me at RSL Soapbox — and it’s a rare pleasure to exchange questions and answers with him. He’s given us some excellent insight on RSL midfielder Scott Caldwell, formerly a long-time Revolution player, as well as why New England is one of the best in MLS.

1 - What happened with Scott Caldwell from 2018 forward that saw his minutes just plummet? Was it injuries? Selection? Do you think he’s still got an MLS season in him?

It definitely wasn’t injuries but a coach’s decision. Scott Caldwell can definitely still do a solid job in the central/holding midfield role in MLS and given the Revs struggles in midfield and adding Matt Polster and Tommy McNamara a couple years back, it was surprising Scotty’s minutes plummeted. The Revs never locked down solid depth in central midfield and struggled with injuries to Carles Gil and Luis Caicedo who missed lengthy spells. Newcomers Arnor Traustason and Wilfrid Kaptom have shown flashes as has former Revs II member Maciel, but it’s still one position group Bruce Arena is hesitant to make substitutions with.

What Caldwell can do well is recover and recycle the ball around to either help start or maintain attacks. He’s never going to be dominant presence but rather a consistent, supporting one. He finds the right areas, pounces on loose balls, and reads the game to cut down spaces and angles. These were all things I thought the Revs needed at times late in games but for some reason Scotty mostly made late cameos off the bench when the game was wrapped up and he surely has more value than that. RSL has a very good player on their roster who is going to help them a lot this season.

2 - New England was one of the best teams in MLS last year, which seemed like a real departure. Is it as simple as Bruce Arena being a great coach? What’s changed to give your side such a boost, and will that continue into 2022?

Yes, having Bruce Arena certainly has helped but there have been a lot of major investments on and off the field for New England the last few years that have truly made a difference. The Revs opened a new training facility on the Gillette Stadium campus, finally got a true Revs II team going in USL or MLS Next Pro as I guess it is now, and let’s be honest - signing two double digit goal scoring DP strikers and an MVP #10 makes things a lot easier.

Yes, Carles Gil, Adam Buksa, and Gustavo Bou are all good at soccer, but just as important was the acquisition of Matt Polster in the summer of 2020. Drafting Henry Kessler to solidify the backline in Bruce’s first full season was another key addition and players like Jon Bell, Maciel, Ryan Spaulding, Edward Kizza, and homegrowns Justin Rennicks and Noel Buck have all gotten time at Revs II to help their development and get more minutes with the first team or earn MLS contracts.

Long story short, the Revs effectively joined the MLS 3.0 era in 2019 ( I think that’s what we call the 3 DP era, I have no idea at this point) and got really good really fast because they had been doing a lot of little things right within MLS already - draft picks, trades, etc. - and then the DPs got everything to come together last year for the Shield.

3 - It’s so early in the season. What’s giving you optimism looking forward, and is that something RSL should be worried about?

The Revs have notched two shutouts already in 2022 and have done so without Matt Turner in goal. Defensively the Revs tended to give up a lot of goals last year that were either really, really well done by the other guys or had some kind of breakdown. So far this year, we haven’t seen too many of those breakdowns end up in the back of the net. Portland scored two really good goals to equalize twice but the Revs were able to limit FC Dallas and UNAM Pumas to very few big chances and Earl Edwards Jr came up huge when called upon.

With Turner leaving in the summer, if Edwards Jr is the heir apparent to the starting GK job he’s certainly earned it. He made a point blank save in the CCL game against Pumas, recovered to stop the second shot, and then helped start a counter that Adam Buksa finished for his first goal and a 2-0 lead not even a minute after his double save. Whether RSL should be specifically worried about this I don’t know cause I think the Revs are going to rotate their lineup pretty heavily but the rest of the league perhaps should be worried that it doesn’t seem the like the Revs are going to take a significant step back in league play even with their CCL commitments.

Lineup/Prediction

4-4-2: Knighton; Spaulding, Gonzalez, Bell, DeLaGarza; Boateng, Traustason, Maciel, Kizza; Altidore, Rennicks

We’re going with my FIFA/FM strategy of rotating the entire squad before a big cup match and with the Revs playing their 3rd match in a 5 games in 15 day stretch, this is actually not a bad group. I’d be most worried about the backline cohesion because left back Ryan Spaulding would be making his MLS debut and Jon Bell and AJD their 2022 season debuts but there’s always a chance to throw the starters on late to steal or seal the win.

Brad Knighton is recovering from a concussion, so if he’s not cleared it would be rookie Jacob Jackson in net unless Arena wants to ride the hot hand in Edwards Jr. Given RSL’s own lineup questions, I think the Revs take this one 2-0 but need some late heavy hitting reinforcements to do so.