Aside from set pieces, surely Jay Heaps’ emphasis in the off-season will be the execution of game plans. I do believe that Heaps had a definitive game plan for each game this season. But maybe the biggest mystery coming out of this 2012 season is why those game plans were only successfully carried out eight times.
Formation might be one reason. The Revolution never really stuck to one particular formation this season. They began in a 4-4-2 and drifted to a 4-2-3-1 for a while. The tail-end of the season saw the Revs return to a traditional diamond-midfield 4-4-2, but all along they have experimented with adapting formation within a game, which can be an advantageous quality but also highly detrimental and disruptive if not executed properly.
This Saturday, the Revolution successfully morphed their formation from a 4-4-2 to a 4-1-4-1 following Diego Fagundez’s 18th minute goal. This displaced striker Dimitry Imbongo to the wing, where he was largely a non-factor in the attack, but was able to help the Revs prevent Chicago’s 4-5-1 formation from exploiting the wings, forcing them to play through the middle. And in the middle was where they had to deal with Clyde Simms and Blair Gavin, who both had impressive outings. This is not only what it looks like when a game plan is executed, it’s what it looks like when a game plan is successfully adapted mid-match.
A key component to the success of this game, aside from the integral contributions of Simms and Gavin, was the defensive emphasis displayed by Diego Fagundez. "I think I got better defensively," said Fagundez after the match. "I knew today was going to be a lot of work and I’ve been talking about it a lot with Jay (Heaps) in training so I came to the game focusing more on defense because attacking is something I was born with. Today was more about defensively and helping out the team defensively. I just came out and did my part defensively and attacking wise I just had a chance."
Fagundez showed a lot of energy, even up to the final whistle, which should reinforce his value to this squad—at 17, the kid doesn’t get tuckered out all that easily. Fagundez may just be in store for a more expansive role in 2013, especially if Heaps can find a way to use him more in the midfield as well as up top.
Heaps’ substitutions also seemed to play a big part in Saturday night’s victory. Both Juan Toja and Chris Tierney showed a lot of spunk coming off the bench. Toja in particular, who replaced Blair Gavin in the 61st minute, was able to contribute to the Revs’ midfield disruption and even paired up top towards the final stretch of the game to keep pressure on the Fire instead of bunkering down as Revolution teams of old have been infamously known to do. Tierney also played with a lot of spunk, slotting into left-midfield instead of his usual left-back, and often charging into the box to provide an option for the likes of Toja and Fagundez who were busy generating New England’s late attacks.
In the end, it was the Revolution’s game plan what won them the three points. "We wanted to frustrate them," said Heaps. "We wanted to let them play out of the back to a certain area. You saw where we closed down. That’s what we harped on all week. Tactically, I thought it was the right move. And you need a special moment, and Diego took it tonight."
An almost flawless defensive effort and one special moment… maybe that’s what we’ll see in 2013. Or maybe it will be something else entirely.