Coming off of an emotional win out on the West Coast last week, the Revs stayed out on the road and headed to Frisco, Texas to take on a struggling FC Dallas club with three points on their mind. After putting together back to back wins, New England was looking for their first three game winning streak since, well, I can't remember.
Revolution head coach Jay Heaps entered the match with a handful of matches under his belt, and in addition to gaining the experience, he was also starting to get a few pieces back into the squad picture. While the Saturday-Thursday road trip is never an easy task to overcome, there were many in Revs Nation looking forward to a Revolution result.
As you've read by now, things took an ugly, confusing turn in what seemed like the twelfth minute of stoppage time, and the Revs were denied their third straight positive result, and in this week's Couch Captain, we take a look at where things may have gone wrong for Heaps' men in Frisco on Thursday night.
INJURY REPORT 4/3: DOUBTFUL: Kevin Alston (L hamstring tightness), John Lozano (R hip flexor strain) OUT: Zak Boggs (R ankle sprain), Benny Feilhaber (L peroneal strain), Sainey Nyassi (Disabled List - R hamstring strain)
The loss of Feilhaber still stings, but his absence has given rookie Kelyn Rowe ample time to get acclimated to the MLS style of play in the regular season, as well as give Jay Heaps a chance to evaluate his other talent at midfield. With Benny out until at least the DC match next weekend, the Rev s were going to have to once again find a way to fill the shoes of their best playmaker.
With Alston's hamstring injury history being what it is, it's plain to see he wouldn't play, which paved the way for newly-signed Florian Lechner, and the absence of Lozano signified the continuation of the McCarthy-Soares pairing at the center of the defense.
Well, relatively unchanged, with Lechner playing RB for the injured Alston as a precaution. This seems to be the best XI for the time being until we see the return of Feilhaber. The 4-4-2 gives Sene someone to play off of up front, and Ryan Guy did a stellar job of that in LA, so I decided to give him another starting nod as I felt like he earned it.
A relatively non-controversial starting lineup in my opinion, and really the only tough decisions were at the back, but both McCarthy and Tierney have outplayed their teammates and earned their spot. I suppose you could play Fernando Cardenas on the left and move Nguyen to striker, but I really like him as a super sub, and as previously stated, Ryan Guy earned his start.
JAY HEAPS' LINEUP (4-4-2) : COUCH CAPTAIN'S LINEUP (4-4-2) : Matt Reis, Florian Lechner, Stephen McCarthy, AJ Soares, Chris Tierney; Lee Nguyen, Clyde Simms, Shalrie Joseph, Kelyn Rowe; Saer Sene, Ryan Guy
As a blogger, I really cannot wait for a full strength Revs squad, because it certainly would make this column a little more interesting as Jay Heaps would have to make a few difficult decisions. Heaps went with the same lineup I had predicted, and I like that he's giving Ryan Guy a good look these past few matches.
McCarthy slots in next to Soares which has really been a pleasant surprise this season, and we were going to get our first full 90 minute look at Florian Lechner.
COACHES' CHALKBOARD AND STYLE OF PLAY
What really worries me when playing FC Dallas is just how fast the team is as a whole unit. One of the biggest weaknesses this Revs generation has shown is the inability to cope with speedy wingers and attack-minded players. Obviously this had to be on the mind of the Revs coaching staff, but to Jay Heaps' credit he really means it when he wants to play attack-minded soccer no matter the opponent.
New England continued its aggressive approach against FC Dallas, and while they were caught out several times (mostly due to Lechner's inability to handle the speed that was coming at him), the Revs did continue to push instead of just laying back and trying to hold out until the very end (which, if you remember, is what they did last year against FC Dallas, which led to defeat).
Defensively, it was Clyde Simms again doing a lot of the dirty work in the center of the park in front of the defenders, and it seemed as if both wing players understood they had to get back on defense as much as possible to help the back line with the speedy, dynamic attack of FC Dallas. I think that is an aspect of Lee Nguyen's game that gets overlooked: he definitely knows when to track back on defense, and not only does he do it, he does it quite effectively.
Ryan Guy and Saer Sene didn't seem to click on the night the way they were in LA, but it's encouraging to see how their two skill sets compliment one another. The offensive approach still seems to be a very possession orientated, fast paced style, and it all starts with Shalrie stepping up in Benny's absence and dictating the flow from the middle of the field and orchestrating. With two talented midfielders on either side of the field in Rowe and Nguyen, New England was going to fight fire with fire and try to turn the flanks into a track meet.
New England definitely wanted to win the possession battle if they could so that they could slow down the attack of FC Dallas (which they did, having 58% of possession), and Heaps' game plan would have been effective enough on the night if not for the late game heroics in the 128th minute (I may be a bit off on that stat).
SUBSTITUTIONS AND COACHES' DECISIONS
In a match that is evenly balanced, substitutions can sometimes make the difference between winning and losing. While Jay Heaps used all three subs, it may be the final one he made that did him in:
Fernando Cardenas for Saer Sene 64'
The Striker Who Shall Not Be Named for Clyde Simms 78'
Jeremiah White for Ryan Guy 88'
Cardenas came on in his usual spot, which I absolutely agree with. I feel like this is when he is at his most dangerous, and in a 0-0 match, he's got all the makings of a match winner.
It was pretty widely assumed that we were going to see the striker from Colombia at some point in the match, but taking out Simms may not have been the wisest choice. I've stated numerous times in this early season that Simms has been the best offseason acquisition so far, and against such a talented attack, I was surprised to see him go. I would've done a like substitution, or even taken out Rowe who seemed to struggle.
The final sub baffles me. I just don't see it with Jeremiah White. I don't. I'm all for "going for gold" and playing for all three points, but you know what? A point on the road in your second match in five days wouldn't have been bad, considering it would have given you 4 points on the road trip. You bring on Barnes here, IF you make a sub at all. Secure the point, and jump on the plane. Now your morale is lower and your potential high flying start has been dulled a little.
I've really enjoyed what Jay Heaps has done this early in the year. His untiring energy and great leadership have been a wonderful, welcome addition to the Revolution. That being said, this match just felt like countless others have over the past few seasons.
The team on the field was certainly good enough for the point given the current run of form and how they were playing on the night. However, you've got to be disciplined and ready at all times. If you can stomach it, watch the final free kick a few more times. Look at how unorganized and flustered it all seems. No one seemed to know their assignment, and they paid because of it. A free header at the back post in the 90+ minute.
This team is still gelling, Heaps is trying to figure out what he has, and players are fighting their way back from injury. With a massive home fixture against a hated rival upcoming, it's time to see what the new head coach and his squad are really made of.