SANTA CLARA, CA - MARCH 10: Blake Brettschneider #23 of the New England Revolution battles for control of the ball with Sam Cronin #4 of the San Jose Earthquakes at Buck Shaw Stadium on March 10, 2012 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
In today's installment of the Couch Captain, we take a look at the Revs 1-0 loss to San Jose, and the coaching decisions made by Head Coach Jay Heaps throughout the match. Without his full compliment of players at his disposal, did Coach Heaps' have his hand played for him? Or were there places he maybe could have done a little better?
Season openers are never an easy task. Months of preparation and anticipation all fuel into one match, and often times you don't exactly get great quality (as was the case Saturday night). While New England was without a few key pieces, they had more than enough quality players in the mix to secure at least a point, but some old bad habits reared their ugly heads once again, and the Revs came back east empty-handed. Stick with us after the jump and we'll outline what the Couch Captain would have done differently!
LINEUP AND FORMATION (4-4-2): Reis - Soares, Lozano, McCarthy, Alston - Feilhaber, Joseph, Simms, Rowe - Brettschneider, Cardenas
If Darrius Barnes doesn't get hurt in training on Friday, the Couch Captain predicted line up would have been a perfect 11/11. That isn't exactly a big deal considering all the absentees on the night, but still, not bad for a first try for the new column. Stephen McCarthy replaced Barnes, but the wrinkle here was that the McCarthy move actually pushed AJ Soares to LEFT BACK. Have you seen AJ play left back before? Yeah, me neither. Look, I know his hand was forced, but AJ looked uncomfortable from the very beginning.
Was there another option? Well, hindsight is always 20/20. Tyler Polak SEEMED like he could have done the job well enough perhaps, but I don't think Polak would have played left back as well as McCarthy played CB on the night, so we'll just chalk this one up to a depleted roster and experience.
Cardenas and Brettschneider was the tandem I chose as well, and early on it looked like it was going to work the way I had predicted it, but far too often you found Cardenas out of position, or not prepared for the oncoming chances. Lots of pace, but very little tactical awareness.
COACHES' CHALKBOARD AND STYLE OF PLAY
Here's where those old bad habits come in to play. It seemed from the early stages the Revs were trying to possess a little and wanted to dictate the pace, but straight from the opening kick the speed of Salinas, Chavez and Wondolowski seemed to really bother the Revolution (a sight all-too-familiar from 2011). Coupled with the pesty, physical play of Steven Lenhart, the pace-filled attack of San Jose forced the Revs into several giveaways and rushed passes in the midfield, which ultimately lead to the game's only goal.
Coming out in a 4-4-2 it was clear that New England was going to try to get the ball out wide to their playmakers in Feilhaber and Rowe, and try to cross the ball into their tall target man in Brettschneider in hopes of either a good headed chance, or perhaps a knocked down pass to the speedy Cardenas. Neither ever really materialized, and Revs fans were then quickly brought back to recent years when it seemed the team was content with winning the ball at the back and then thumping long balls to Cardenas and his speed, but unfortunately the Colombian forward never seemed to be in the right place.
New England must learn to play with the ball in tight spaces. The squad has always had a difficult time dealing with speedy styles of play, and instead of having patience and sticking to the possession style attack and gameplan, they
While most are calling for the often-popular 4-3-3, I still contend that with the personnel in place, New England should play a 4-5-1, and let Cardenas play on the left flank and use his speed. When Séne returns, and if "The Striker Who Shall Not Be Named" ever makes it to Foxboro, one forward will be enough to create the chances this team is capable of.
SUBSTITUTIONS AND COACH'S DECISIONS
All three subs were used in the match on Saturday night:
Tyler Polak for AJ Soares 60'
The Polak sub was due to Soares picking up a non-contact injury to what seemed to be his left knee late in the first half. While it seemed like Soares ran it off and continued, this was obviously a precautionary sub, as there is no reason to end someone's season before it even starts.
Loved the Nguyen sub for a seemingly-ineffective Cardenas, but my only gripe is it may have come a little late. I would have preferred it be a double-substitution at the 60 minute mark and Nguyen been brought on with Polak. We predicted at the Couch Captain that Nguyen would see some minutes, but given the circumstances and just how disjointed New England looked, perhaps Nguyen should have seen more than the 20 he got because he instantly changed the match.
I still have yet to see Ryan Guy produce the magic he did while in Ireland, and Saturday night, while the bench was short, I was slightly surprised to see Guy instead of Fagundez at the 80 minute mark. The Revs needed an offensive minded attacker at that point, and for all the times I've doubted him, Fagundez seems to pull through. I really prefer Diego as a late-game super sub, and that was the perfect time for him. Guy had very little impact on the match, and this is easily the decision I disagree with the most.
Coach Heaps was dealt a really tough hand for First Kick 2012. The team left Arizona on Sunday to head back to Foxboro, then headed right back out to San Jose on Wednesday for the opener. When you couple that with the bevy of missing pieces, the 1-0 scoreline almost seems like an incredible moral victory for New England.
While we truly won't see the depth of Heaps' coaching abilities until much later in the year, it's pretty plain to see that the club has a desired direction with its style of play. The biggest hurdle this team (and Heaps in particular) will have to clear is those brutal old bad habits of thumping the ball long and refusing to play possession after a little bit of frustration. Heaps needs to instill in his players that sticking to the gameplan and listening to his listening to his instructions is paramount.
The road doesn't get any easier for the Revolution as they now head to Sporting Kansas City and their raucous crowd. Taking a point from the Eastern Conference favorites won't be easy, but with the right lineup, the right gameplan, and some solid coaching decisions, it's not out of the realm of possibility.