The New England Revolution lost 0-2 to Real Salt Lake on Saturday in a match that most Revolution fans would rather soon forget. Unfortunately, they won't be able to any time soon: both Shalrie Joseph and Pat Phelan are now suspended for the Houston match next week after picking up red cards. Next week's ad hoc lineup will serve as a painful reminder of this past weekend's debacle.
And what a debacle it was. Despite a second straight match (in just three days) that was marred by poor and inconsistent officiating, the Revolution can't blame the man in the middle for their difficulties this time. The Royals trotted out a reserve lineup featuring perennial benchwarmers like Rauwshan McKenzie and Jean Alexandre and proceeded to frankly embarrass the home side. The Revs could do nothing to break down the disciplined shape of RSL's second-team and again found their most glaring weakness exposed: the inability to string together simple passes and maintain possession.
The entire match was characterized by giveaways. No one was innocent; the usual suspects like Nyassi, Mansally and Phelan were contributors, but so were those who are generally more careful with the ball, like Shalrie Joseph and Marko Perovic. Perovic in particular looked quite rusty. Granted, it was his first match back since the first week of the season and he hadn't practiced much since, but his first half performance was definitely one to forget.
Saturday also marked the second match in which the Revs looked more dangerous with Ilija Stolica on the pitch. Zack Schilawski put in a few headers in the box and did well as the lone striker in the first half, but though he definitely suffered for lack of service, there were occasions where he needed to show himself as an outlet for a pass or make a more telling run, and instead he remained smothered by his marker. Stolica lacks Schilawski's youthful exuberance and athleticism, but he more than makes up for it in intelligence and experience; this allows him to contribute to maintaining possession by presenting an easy target when the man on the ball is closed down.
More after the jump.
Much like Wednesday's failed experiment with Sainey Nyassi on the left, Nicol's attempt to encourage Kenny Mansally to cut inside from the right tanked badly. Though he did get off a dangerous shot from distance, Mansally continually lost the ball on the right side and proved unable to cross accurately with his right foot. With Perovic still shaking out the cobwebs on the right, the Revs coaching staff elected to swap the two wingers back to their more natural positions later in the first half, a clear indictment of the initial strategy if there ever was one.
Too often I'm finding that one of two things happens when the Revs have the ball. On the one hand, they seem to get far too impatient. More than once you'll see them spray passes around, mixing it up between midfield and defense, only for someone to seemingly get bored with things and hoof it aimlessly up field, resulting in a turnover. On the other hand, a Revolution player (often in midfield or on the wing) receives the ball and gets covered up by one or two opposing players. In these situations, some other player(s) has to pull away from his marker and show himself to give the marked ball-handler an option. On Saturday - as in so many matches this season - no New England players were working to get open. The off-ball movement was honestly atrocious; some players seemed to just jog after the players who were supposed to be marking them!
I'm don't need to address the implications of losing Shalrie Joseph for a match, but I wil. We can complain - rightfully, I might add - that the red card was horribly soft, but any way you slice it, the captain is gone for the Houston trip. Therefore, our best player, one of the best in the entire league, and one of the few who has shown any consistent ability to pass the ball is going to be absent. If you thought beating a half-strength RSL side was always going to be a tall order, taking down Houston (the same squad that shellacked the Revs in preseason) without Joseph will be nigh-on impossible.
It was nice to see a few veterans step up in Joseph's absence, however. Ilija Stolica and Didier Domi in particular took over leadership duties for the rest of the match. It wasn't their only contribution, but the incident surrounding Pat Phelan's dismissal illustrates this best.
Some will say that losing your temper is not the mark of a leader - in most situations I agree. But I believe that sometimes a leader allows his emotions to get the better of him because the team needs to see that level of commitment, loyalty and passion in the one they look up to. Domi was the first to show it, getting right in the face of rabble-rouser Will Johnson after the Canadian started stirring things up when Phelan had just been shown his card.
Following that, Stolica became infuriated when referee Jasen Anno apparently refused to punish Salt Lake for any of its multitude of transgressions. It looked like more of a "straw that broke the camels back" sort of thing, but no Revolution fan I know can remember seeing Stoli so animated. Even after Johnson received his second yellow, Stolica was throwing himself around the pitch for the last ten minutes or so, trying to get something started. That sort of display can invigorate a side, and in a tense match that builds so much frustration, seeing a leader unleash his fury like that can be almost cathartic for the rest of the team.
At the end of the day, the Revs finally lost a match they deserved to lose. At home to Portland and especially in Vancouver, New England was pulling out results when they really didn't play well enough to warrant it, and that was always going to catch up to them. The key now is to make it through next weekend's match as best they can when missing Shalrie and start fresh with a clean slate against Kansas City in two weeks. Luckily, the Dynamo are winless going into today's match with Vancouver - if ever there was a good time to be looking week going into a match, it would be now.
Frustrated with Saturday's performances? Seeing some positives I didn't highlight here? Leave your thoughts and comments below!