The Hounds in the Open Cup are always a pleasure to watch – especially when they hit the first round against an MLS opponent (AKA the round of 32). As John Krysinsky noted in an article two weeks past, a Riverhounds win would propel the team to the round of 16 for the first time since 2001. Personally, I’m just excited that the Hounds aren’t going to play an Ohio team this year. Pittsburgh lost to FC Cincinnati in 2022 and 2018, and Columbus Crew in 2019.
This is the first time the Pittsburgh Riverhounds, born in 1999, and the New England Patriots, created in 1996, have ever faced each other. As PSN’s resident MLS nerd (I co-host a podcast on the Colorado Rapids every week, #ShamelessSelfPromotion), our beloved editor assigned me the job of telling you all about the Revs.
In short, if the Hounds were hoping for one of the easier draws amongst MLS teams in the East to face off against in an elimination tournament, the Revolution ain’t it.
Personnel and Tactics
The New England Revolution sit first in the MLS Eastern Conference table right now on 24 points gained from a 7-4-1 record, with a Goal Differential of +9 (18 Goals For, 9 Goals Against). Their starting goalkeeper, Djorje Petrovic, had the best G-xG rate among all MLS goalkeepers in 2022. His mark of -10.75 G-xG indicates that he saved almost 11 goals more than the average MLS goalkeeper would had they faced the same shots as him. This season, he’s currently second in G-xG. New England’s other star players are attacking midfielder Carles Gil, midfielder Latif Blessing, and defenders Dave Romney and Brandon Bye. Former USMNT striker Bobby Wood has 2 goals and 3 assists for the team.
The Musketmen are coached by venerable (and legendarily cantankerous) American head coach Bruce Arena. Arena won five national Championships as an NCAA men’s soccer coach with University of Virginia. He won the first ever MLS Cup in 1996 with DC United. He would win three more with LA Galaxy. He was also twice the USMNT head coach; from 1998 to 2006, and again in 2017 as he attempted to steer the US team to the World Cup after a bumpy start under Jurgen Klinsmann. They didn’t make it. That said, Arena is arguably the greatest coach in US and MLS history. He has coached Landon Donovan and David Beckham and Christian Pulisic and Jeff Agoos and Marco Etcheverry. He has won pretty much all the things – MLS Cup, Supporters Shield, Concacaf SuperLiga, Gold Cup, and even the US Open Cup, in 1996. He beat the Rochester Raging Rhinos that year.
Back to the players – the good news is that all of those star MLS guys – Petrovic, Gil, Blessing, Romney, Bye – none of ’em played in the previous round against USL team Hartford Athletic.
The only two regular starters in their Tuesday April 25 lineup were young midfielders Noel Buck and Esmir Bajraktarevic. Buck and Bajraktarevic are 17 and 18 years old, respectively, so it makes sense why both are getting a run out in Open Cup, too – experience doesn’t matter as much against USL opponents, and these kids can run all day and twice on Sunday.
The rest of the lineup from the last USOC round are backups. Second-string goalkeeper Earl Edwards Jr., at 31 years old, is an MLS/USL journeyman. In seven years as a pro, he has just 11 MLS starts. Right Back Joshua Bolma, a 2023 MLS Superdraft pick, played in his first 70 minutes of MLS football in that Open Cup game against Hartford. Striker Justin Rennicks spent all of 2022 with the senior team after several years with NE Revolution II. He had 2 goals in 2022 in 780 minutes of play, so he isn’t to be considered lethal. He is, however, 22 years old, so he is both on the rise and hungry. And NER’s regular strikers: Bobby Wood and Gustavo Bou, are 30 and 33 years old, respectively. They are rapidly nearing the downside of their careers, if it hasn’t already arrived. Winger Damien Rivera is another Revs academy product – 20 years old and in his second year at the MLS level. On the opposite wing against Hartford there was Colombian Dylan Borrero. Borrero, however, suffered a torn ACL last week against FC Cincinnati and will be out for the season.
So, you see the trend? New England is #PlayYourKids in Open Cup. Regulars Bye, Romney, and Gil subbed on late in the Hartford match to help gain the advantage – and it was Romney that scored the game winner on an assist from Gil.
This is a common move – MLS teams don’t use their frontline guys till they need them. This season more than ever before, squad rotation is essential in Major League Soccer, as all teams will be competing in a new competition called Leagues Cup – a head to head competition amongst the non-champions of MLS and Mexico’s Liga MX that will add a minimum of 3 matches to schedule. On top of that, the post season will take 18 of 29 teams, and the playoff format includes a first round best-of-three format. MLS teams will all be playing more games in 2023 than ever before, so most teams will probably risk going out of Open Cup in favor of letting the reserves try and get the job done.
The Revolution will likely play straight up against the Riverhounds, expecting that talent and being at home will give them the early edge. If they can keep the score even until the middle of the second half, they’ll sub on their A-team and expect to blow the Hounds out of the water. If I’m Bob Lilley, I’d play aggressive in the first half to try and get a 1-0 or 2-0 lead, and then lock things down for the final 45 and hope that whatever Bruce Arena puts on after minute 65 will be too little, too late.
The Revs are a deep team. There are some transition questions going forward as the team attempts to bridge from older veterans to a younger generation. But there’s talent here, and hunger, and depth. All of that, plus the Hounds playing this one on the road, make the clash against Boston’s best an uphill battle for the steel city boys.
Scouting Report from Jake Cantanese, The Bent Musket
as reported by John Krysinsky, Managing Editor, Pittsburgh Soccer Now
“It should be a reserve heavy lineup for the Revs with a lot of heavy hitters available off the bench. New England has been dealing with various injuries and now have to fill a massive hole on the depth chart with Dylan Borrero out for the year.”
“Borrero started against Hartford as did Noel Buck who played 90 minutes against Toronto over the weekend. With the Revs also short utility man Tommy McNamara, defender Henry Kessler, and midfielder Nacho Gil, I wouldn’t be shocked to see a few short term Revs II call ups to supplement the bench.”
“Esmir Bajraktarevic also started and played an hour over the weekend but could be in line for another start. Latif Blessing came off the bench over the weekend and missed time in Ghana helping his family come stateside so today could be an opportunity for him to game more game minutes.
My best guess at a 4-2-3-1 will feature the same backline/keeper as the Hartford match for sure:
Edwards Jr; Sweat, Makoun, O Gonzalez, Bolma; Panayoutou, Blessing; Rivera, Bajraktarevic, Rennicks; Altidore
DP striker Giacomo Vrioni was on the bench but didn’t feature against Toronto and could also feasibly start. Gustavo Bou was not on the bench and might still be unavailable so we’ll give Jozy the nod up top.”
Tactically, Catanese had this to say:
“At its heart, I think the Revs are a counter attacking team, though they aren’t shabby in build-up possession with Carles Gil pulling the strings. I don’t expect the 2021 MLS MVP to start, however, so New England utilizing a high press like they did in Toronto to great success is a decent game plan.”
“Damien Rivera should start at one of the wing positions and could be in line for big minutes in the absence of Dylan Borrero. If Emanuel Boateng is the veteran option, Rivera could be a great asset off the bench with his tendency to take opponents on in 1v1 situations. New England likes to create chances from high leverage situations off turnovers and Rivera’s speed can help unlock defenses and space in the middle.”
Last Round’s Starting XI for New England in USOC
Riverhounds vs. New England Revolution
Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Round of 32
Date: Tuesday, May 9
Time: 7:30 p.m.
Location: Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass.
Streaming: U.S. Soccer Federation YouTube
Live updates: @pghsoccernow , @RiverhoundsSC on Twitter
Match hashtags: #NEvPIT, #HOUNDTAHN and #USOC2023