It’s only fitting that a national television audience will get to watch Friday night’s meeting between the New England Revolution and Sporting Kansas City, as second place in the Eastern Conference will be on the line with just one month remaining in the regular season.
NBC Sports Network’s coverage begins at 8 p.m. ET on Friday, but we caught up with NBCSN analyst Brian Dunseth to get an advanced take on the match-up.
With second place in the Eastern Conference on the line and the playoffs approaching, what type of atmosphere are you expecting on Friday night at Sporting Park?
“I think the atmosphere at Sporting Park is one of the best in Major League Soccer. I think they’ve always done a good job, their crowd, of creating a hostile environment. You know it’s going to be a packed house, you know it’s going to be loud, rambunctious. And on the field it’s going to trickle over.
[Sporting KC] is a team that likes to jump on their opponents early. They like to kind of strangle their opponent through possession and forcing them to chase the game, and they’re unapologetic with their defensive nature. So I think it’s got all the ingredients to be one of the best games to lead us to the run-up to the start of the playoffs.”
Which individual battles are you looking forward to on Friday night?
“If they’re healthy, the combination of Aurelien Collin and Matt Besler – you’ve got incredibly aggressive, athletic center backs and kind of that poised leader in Besler. You’ve got two very mismatched center backs, but two very, very good center backs. So whoever (Revs head coach) Jay (Heaps) elects to start up top, whether that be Charlie (Davies), one of the youngsters, or Teal (Bunbury), he’s got a plethora of options to kind of keep Sporting Kansas City’s backline on their toes.
Paulo Nagamura isn’t afraid to kick anything that comes near him, and at the same time, is one of the best two-way midfielders in the last 10 years of Major League Soccer. So they’re going to make life difficult. You know Benny (Feilhaber) is going to be up for this game just because of his ties to New England and continuing to build upon the year that he’s had.
Then up top any time you’ve got a guy like Dom (Dwyer), you know he’s going to make life difficult for A.J. (Soares). He’s going to look to make life difficult for both center backs. I think Dom is one of the best forwards for his work off the ball, creating havoc with his defensive work rate, his nature to kind of run people down. So (Jose) Goncalves and A.J. are going to have their hands full. There’s really not one individual battle I’m looking at – I’m looking at the battle through the spine of the team on both sides.”
This will be the Revolution’s first visit to Sporting Park since being eliminated from the 2013 MLS Cup Playoffs at the venue last November. Might that be on the players’ minds on Friday night?
“Yes and no. I think psychologically the talking points will be that it’s a new year, it’s a new group. But at the same time, there’s always going to be the ghosts and the demons of the disappointing past. So I think for the guys that were on the field when they were knocked out last season, that’ll be first and foremost in their mind – retribution and revenge. The only way past that is to get a couple of good, positive first touches to kind of assert yourself on the field both offensively and defensively and get the confidence going.
But besides that, for the new guys, I mean it’s been a pretty impressive offseason to see what Jay and company have done with that group and the pieces of the puzzle they’ve added together and getting the best out of guys. Again, I’ve had this game circled for a long time since I knew I got it because I knew it was going to be one of the best games as we kind of look to finish the season.”
What has been your impression of Lee Nguyen’s emergence as an MVP candidate?
“The last couple of years I’ve been incredibly impressed with some of his performances. I think one of the reasons why he probably doesn’t get the amount of respect he deserves is because of the simple and plain fact that he’s not on national television week-in and week-out like some of the other players, and he hasn’t had that legitimate breakthrough in the national team to kind of have that social media backing to get the praise and the due respect that he deserves.
I think this year it’s just been consistency. When they’re winning, he’s been consistent. When they’re losing, he’s been consistent. And he’s a guy that’s become the focal point in that midfield in a lot of ways. And at the same time, I think he continues to not only get better as an individual player, but I think he makes the players around him better and that’s a huge, huge thing to do as a player in this league is to not just be consistent, not just be the guy who can take over a game consistently, but consistently make players around him better.
With the confidence of knowing how well he’s playing this year, I think on both sides of the ball he’s gotten better in all aspects. I think he’s really a complete player. I think if you ask the players in the league that get the opportunity to go up against him on a monthly basis or a bi-monthly basis, they’re going to say that he’s one of the guys that they would have in their best eleven, just because this year he’s proven to be a difference maker time and time again.”
From a national perspective, what kind of impact have you seen Jermaine Jones make on this Revolution team in the brief time he’s been in New England?
“Jermaine’s athleticism, his physical ability, the mark that he leaves on a game, all of that is really well known. His speed, his strength, his athleticism, his technical ability – he sees the game in ways that really very few in Major League Soccer do. And his experience overseas and in Champions League and at the World Cup level, he’s no secret.
But I think what he’s done in the short amount of time that he’s been with the Revs and he’s worked his way back to full fitness, is he’s made the younger players around him better. He’s made them more confident and I think there’s a level of accountability when he steps on the field that’s very similar to what we saw with guys like David Beckham, Robbie Keane and Thierry Henry. When he’s on the field, it’s almost as if the players want to prove that they’re good enough to earn his respect. That’s a valuable, valuable asset, and there’s not too many players like that that come along in Major League Soccer that make players do that.
I think what I’ve seen from him is he’s made every player around him better and he’s made every player around him more confident. I think the younger players, to be able to bring a guy like Jermaine in and surround him with these insanely talented younger players, it’s going to drive that club forward and make them, in my opinion, the scariest team, or one of the top two scariest teams, that teams are going to face in the playoffs.”