KANSAS CITY, KS - MARCH 17: Graham Zusi #8 and Seth Sinovic #16 of the Sporting Kansas City Celebrate a goal by C.J. Sapong during a game against the New England Revolution in the second half at Livestrong Sporting Park on March 17, 2012 in Kansas City, Kansas. Sporting won 3-0. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
In this week's installment of the Couch Captain, we take a look at Saturday night's frustrating loss to Sporting Kansas City. Revolution coach Jay Heaps entered the match on Saturday night with a full regular season game now under his belt, as well as a few fresh faces to introduce into the lineup. I'll break down all the lineup decisions, substitutions and in-game tactical changes made by the Revs head man and try to illustrate what, if anything, could have been done differently in their 3-0 loss.
INJURY REPORT 3/16 - PROBABLE: Kelyn Rowe (neck stiffness), Saer Sene (L knee swelling)
Another week, and it seemed as if the "OUT" portion of the injury report got bigger. Barnes missed the match with the injury he picked up last Friday, and John Lozano was out with the strain he picked up in San Jose. This left Jay Heaps with very little room for error with his back line, and almost assured a player would have to play out of position at some point Saturday night should a change be needed.
Rowe and Sene weren't expected to miss the match, but the left knee of the tall Frenchman was still a small worry in the back of the mind of Revs fans still waiting for the team's first goal of 2012.
COUCH CAPTAIN'S LINEUP: (4-5-1) Reis-Alston, McCarthy, Soares,Tierney; Joseph,Simms, Nguyen, Feilhaber,Rowe; Sene
It's a lot easier to pick your squad when there are fewer players available to you. The injury to Barnes and Chris Tierney coming back off of suspension meant the left-back spot was an easy switch for me as the team awaits the arrival of Flo Lechner.
Lee Nguyen demonstrated in his cameo appearance in the late stages of the match in San Jose that he absolutely has the qualities this team needs in the attack. After another full week of training with his new team mates, it was time to put his dazzling play on display for a full 90.
After last Saturday night's paltry offensive showing, Saer Sene's availability made him an almost must-start player. Playing as the lone striker in this system, Sene needed to bring his athleticism and speed to the team.
JAY HEAPS' LINEUP: (4-5-1) Reis- Alston, McCarthy, Soares, Tierney; Nguyen, Simms, Feilhaber, Joseph, Rowe; Sene
Like I said, with the players missing due to injury, and with Tierney and Sene returning, it seemed as if this was the lineup Coach Heaps was going to go with.
I absolutely love this midfield group. One can only hope as the season wears on, this group can continue to play together and gel because it has a little bit of everything in it: speed, power, creativity, youth and experience.
Stephen McCarthy performed well enough in his new CB role in San Jose and has seemingly adjusted to the role quite well in the early stages, so with Lozano out with his injury as well as Barnes, it seemed McCarthy was the man to play alongside Soares.
Seemingly healthy, it had to be Saer Sene up top.
COACHES' CHALKBOARD AND STYLE OF PLAY:
Let's get the obvious part of the analysis out of the way early: When you're given a red card 15 minutes in, it doesn't matter what kind of game plan you created at the start. When McCarthy was shown the door in the first quarter of an hour, the original game plan went out the door with him.
It's tough to get a solid grip on exactly what Jay Heaps was looking to do against a very talented Sporting Kansas City side when you only have about 10-15 minutes of gameplay to analyze. However, it did look like the plan was simple and very familiar: Win possession in the midfield with the superior talent you have in Joseph, Simms, and Feilhaber, and try to maintain the ball and get it to your playmakers.
It's been pretty evident in recent memory that the way to beat New England is to over-press their defenders and midfielders and force them to play the long ball. If you can limit the amount of time the Revs have on the ball and force them into thumping long-balls down the field, you can bide your time and pick them apart. With Sporting having so much speed and dynamic athleticism on the field, this is clearly what they set out to do.
After the red-card, it seemed like the reaction was to bunker-in and try to keep the match scoreless or at least as close as possible, in hopes that maybe you could somehow nick a result with a bit of luck and inspiration. Joseph dropped back into the center of defense and played as the stand-in CB for the rest of the match.
When the Revs weren't under heavy pressuring attack, they did try to make a few advances at the Sporting goal, but clearly nothing seemed to click offensively for New England, especially with their midfield general now playing at CB.
In the end, Coach Heaps did all he could from a tactical standpoint given the difficult circumstances on the night. Most fans offer up ridiculous ideas like playing another striker or "throwing caution to the wind", but the fact of the matter is, this early in the season, the smartest thing to do was, in fact, what Coach Heaps did: try to stay compact and solid defensively, and maybe eke out a 0-0 or 1-1 draw. Obviously, that didn't happen, but the approach was correct.
SUBSTITUTIONS AND COACHES' DECISIONS
Ryan Guy for Kelyn Rowe 46'
Diego Fagundez for Saer Sene 57'
Ryan Guy came on at the half for the rookie Kelyn Rowe, and quite frankly it seemed like a good idea. It's not that Rowe was playing poorly, but given the early stages of the season, and how the match was unfolding, going with the more experienced Guy was a god move. Guy played inspired soccer as well, showing the flashes of leadership and fire that many fans have been calling for.
The Fagundez decision puzzles me a little. If you are apt to read into things, ponder this: Coach Heaps kept Fagundez on the bench in San Jose with the side only down a goal in the latter stages of the match, but throws him out there in Kansas City, down 3 goals with the match already WELL in hand. If I'm over-analyzing things, it almost seems like this was an experience-gaining outing for Fagundez, even though, given the state of the match at that particular point, it's hard to say it was anything more than that.
The same could almost be said about the White substitution also. After the match, Heaps called the sub for Feilhaber "precautionary", as the Revs' playmaker had picked up a slight knock. With the Revs down 3-0 at the time, it seemed like a perfectly good time to introduce the new midfielder into the squad. In a match that was more "in the balance" I certainly would have gone with Fernando Cardenas here instead of White, but, again, given the circumstances, why not bring in the new arrival?
The second that red card hit the air, the match turned on its head. While New England took the proper steps in attempting to remain competitive and gaining a result, as soon as the second SKC goal crossed the line, this match went into "chalk it up to experience" mode. It was evident by the final two subs that this was certainly the case for New England in the latter stages of the second half. Coach Heaps got Diego some minutes, and got to see what his new signing was capable of in front of an incredibly difficult crowd in an even more difficult situation.
Next week marks the home opener for the Revolution, as they entertain the Portland Timbers. Once again, the Revs will face a side with great speed and athleticism and a pressuring, up-tempo style of play. New England needs to learn to cope with the pressure and continue to work on their possession.
Without McCarthy, John Lozano and Darrius Barnes become very important for the Revolution back line, and one of them, or perhaps even both, will need to overcome their injuries to keep the defense solid. If not, it will be another week where we see a lineup being pieced together by the head coach.
This club has more than enough pieces to compete in this league. The Eastern Conference is very much up for grabs, and if the team can learn to slow things down and dictate the tempo of the game, happier times are ahead for Revs Nation.