It was an incredibly challenging night at the office for Jay Heaps on Saturday, but given all of the circumstances limiting his ability to guide his club to a win, it's fair to say he did a fine job with the pieces he had.
Without his leading scorer (Saer Sene), and his dynamic left midfielder (Lee Nguyen), Heaps selected the best XI he could, and quite frankly, there was no reason the side couldn't steal a point on the night.
In this week's Couch Captain we take a look at the loss in Houston, and the admirable job done by Jay Heaps.
NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION -- OUT: DF Flo Lechner (R knee MCL sprain); MF Lee Nguyen (R shoulder surgery); DF Tyler Polak (R foot sprain); FW Saer Sene (L knee ACL surgery); DF Chris Tierney (L knee sprain / L hamstring strain); QUESTIONABLE: MF Clyde Simms (R calf tightness)
On top of the loss of the two I mentioned, you also were going to be without your starting LB in Tierney, and also lost his backup in Lechner. Simms passed a late fitness test, but then further aggravated his injury and had to be subbed off at the half, further complicating the match.
JAY HEAPS LINEUP vs. HOUSTON: Bobby Shuttleworth - Kevin Alston, A.J. Soares, Stephen McCarthy, Darrius Barnes - Fernando Cardenas, Benny Feilhaber, Clyde Simms, Kelyn Rowe - Dimitry Imbongo, Jerry Bengtson
The back four was pretty a much a no-brainer considering what Jay Heaps had left in his squad. Alston stayed at left back, where he's performed very well, and Barnes manned the right side.
The midfield sorted itself out quite nicely, and that was definitely helped out by Clyde Simms passing his fitness test. Most importantly it meant the return of Benny Feilhaber to the starting lineup, much to the delight of this Couch Captain. Cardenas and Rowe brought a ton of speed on the wings and I was quite pleased to see this particular formation.
Up top, Heaps did exactly what I wanted to and played the bigger, more physical Imbongo with Bengtson which made all the sense in the world. Overall, a good starting XI from Jay.
COACHES CHALKBOARD AND STYLE OF PLAY
Believe it or not the short bench may have helped this team's style of play on Saturday night, because it put some key players in spots they belong in. Benny is so much more useful and dangerous when he's given the reigns of the offense in the center of the park, and you could see it on display in the first half. McCarthy and Soares were back together again in the middle of the defense and you could see where that solidified that back four in the early going.
Offensively, you saw the effect of the high pressure applied by Imbongo, who bothered the Houston back four all night, forcing them into several rushed clearances and poor passes. With Bengtson poaching in the box, New England had a solid approach in the final third, especially given how slippery the pitch was from the poor weather.
Overall I felt like the Revs had a good approach on Saturday night. High pressure, trying to force Houston into a mistake, taking advantage of the poor conditions. The defense was solid, and contained the talented Dynamo midfielders for almost the entire match.
SUBSTITUTIONS AND COACHES DECISIONS
It's tough when injury forces your hand a bit, as it did with the SImms sub at halftime, but with the game still in the balance and a short bench, Heaps made two other moves:
Blake Brettschneider for Dimitry Imbongo 78'
Diego Fagundez for Darrius Barnes 82'
Two offensive minded substitutions with the Revs trailing. Brettschneider hasn't seen the field too much in recent weeks, but I felt like at the time it was the right move. Houston is an incredibly physical team, and the match in particular was quite chippy.
As far as Fagundez, there really wasn't much else Heaps could go to. I didn't think he was going to bring in a guy like Purdie, so with the Revs looking for a goal, he brought in the teenager. Don't love the move, but quite frankly the cupboard was pretty bare at the time.
For almost 70 minutes it looked like this team may sneak out the result in a tough place to play. The defense was holding firm, and in reality, the Revs created the better chances all night long. You could almost call the loss unlucky, given the two glorious scoring chances they had, but Houston did boss the second half and deserved the win in the end.
I was glad to see the return of Feilhaber, I'd been calling for it for who knows how long, and Benny proved me right by not only commanding a very good looking offense in the first half, but by going to ground on slide tackles and playing good, solid defense as well.
Dimitry Imbongo may have earned himself on the 2013 squad for me on Saturday. He's got plenty of physical tools, and will only get better with a little more seasoning. With Sene coming off major surgery, the Revs are going to need a third striker to step up in the early stages of the season, and Imbongo might be it.
Lastly, the Revs need to end 2012 on a good, strong note. There are three matches left in the season, and they all present opportunity to build on something for the future. Heaps has continued to play his best lineup, which in my eyes is the best course of action. Looking ahead to the end of this campaign and the beginning of the next, this club is still searching for a true identity, and there's no time like the present to start building towards their new persona.