The Revs have a shot. I know you kinda sorta don't believe that because FC Dallas are still the best team in MLS, but come Tuesday night's US Open Cup final (10 pm ET; ESPN2, UDN in the US | MLS LIVE in Canada), I don't think this is going to be a cakewalk.
I made this point in my Sunday column, and just want to re-emphasize it here since New England have evolved, in the last two weeks, into a legitimately dangerous and thrilling team to watch play. They've done this by shifting formation (they now play a 4-4-2 with a diamond), and shifting where they hold the ball. In years past New England would primarily drive the ball directly into the final third and keep it there, relying upon a million short passes and clever off-the-ball movement to open you up -- a strategy was often effective, but one that required/requires a ton of precision from the entire attack.
Teams now have four years of film to dissect and gameplan. Those gaps that Diego Fagundez found so readily in 2013 and Lee Nguyen in 2014 are closing five percent faster, and that's the difference between goals and goal-kicks.
Now they've switched to a 4-4-2 diamond, and adjusted the focal point. Nguyen is still the creative hub, but it's Kelyn Rowe whose primary task is turning possession into final third entries, while some combination of shuttlers Fagundez and Scott Caldwell (in Gennaro Gattuso's old AC Milan role, and yes that is an awesome thing to type out) and d-mid Gershon Koffie set the tempo.
All of this is excellent stuff, and as an unabashed fan of the diamond I am an unabashed fan of this adjustment from Jay Heaps. On top of that, I am an unabashed fan of Juan Agudelo doing stuff like this:
I've alternately jumped on the hype train/jumped off the bandwagon regarding Agudelo probably a half a dozen times over the last six years, and I may very well be setting myself up for disappointment once again. Every good run of form is punctuated by an injury of some sort (exactly what happened this spring, by the way), and every string of aggressive, goal-hungry performances is followed by a series of lethargic showings that make it 100% clear why he's been deployed on the wing so often despite his obvious gifts as a No. 9. He's been too talented to sit entirely, but too passive to win the job outright.
Perhaps that has changed. It's certainly looked like it over his last two outings.
The other thing that's changed, teamwide, is the impetus for how and where to find space. Since 2013 the Revs have danced to Nguyen's tune -- hence the million passes in the attacking third. Everything went through him.
Now the spine of Agudelo, Rowe and Koffie are the fulcrum through which everything runs with Nguyen given a freelancer's role. He's no longer a fixed point, and after a long, hot July and August of misery, he's been his old, MVP-caliber self through two September outings.
This is not to take away from the obvious facts that Dallas are still favorites, and and that the diamond still has a weakness because it defends narrow. This is "good for hiding the ball" with possession, as Jose Mourinho put it a few weeks back, but when possession is lost any team with speedy wingers and midfielders with vision can rip a diamond's defensive shape apart. Michael Barrios and Tesho Akindele fill Column A, and in while both Mauro Diaz and Kellyn Acosta (yup, he's a much better passer than you realize) fill Column B.
New England will have to sell out defensively to keep those guys passing backwards or sideways, but both are so good at receiving the ball, throwing off the defense, then playing vertically...
Look, I'm not about to accuse Vancouver of good defense on that play. But Dallas go from "we've got them 80 yards out and things are fine" to "oh god oh god oh god I hope they miss" faster than anybody in the league.
I'm looking forward to this game. It's a clash of styles but not of philosophies, and it's two organizations that have gone longer than they should have without winning a major trophy.
The drought ends for one of them tomorrow night.