FOXBORO, MA - MAY 12: New England Revolution teammates crowd Lee Nguyen after he scored his second unassisted goal against the Vancouver Whitecaps at Gillette Stadium May 12, 2012 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Gail Oskin/Getty Images)
For what seems like the first match all season, Jay Heaps and the Revolution fielded what one could argue to be a first choice squad on Saturday night. Other than the absence of Jose Moreno, you could make a case that what we saw on the field was the best the Revs had to offer, and more importantly, the result matched the talent on the field.
With the injury report being what is was, and the availability of several new pieces, New England entered the match Saturday night with options, and good ones at that. The most important thing taken away from the match was almost certainly the fact that this was yet another solid performance added onto what has already become a long stretch of good performances, regardless of the results.
Heaps definitely made my job a little easier this week from a Couch Captain point of view, but even a 4-1 victory at home will have its questions. Did Heaps push all the right buttons? Or could Saturday have been even more monumental?
After the jump, I'm breaking down the Revs finest performance of the season in this week's edition of the Couch Captain!
NE Injury Report – May 11, 2012
QUESTIONABLE: Ryan Guy (R calf stiffness)
DOUBTFUL: Kelyn Rowe (L hamstring strain)
As previously mentioned, it was the injury to Moreno that caused the most stress on Coach Heaps this weekend, but the unexpected knock taken by the rookie Kelyn Rowe in training must have made things a little more difficult as well (although, many of us have been saying it might be time for Kelyn to get some rest on the bench). Ryan Guy also caused an issue with thinning out the depth at forward/midfield, but with the emrgence of Blake Brettschneider recently, his absence didn't hurt as much as one would think.
COUCH CAPTAIN'S LINEUP vs. VANCOUVER (4-4-2) : Reis; Alston, McCarthy, Soares, Tierney; Nguyen, Simms, Joseph, Feilhaber; Sene, Moreno
JAY HEAPS' LINEUP vs. VANCOUVER (4-4-2): Reis; Alston, McCarthy, Soares, Tierney; Nguyen, Simms, Joseph, Feilhaber; Sene, Brettschneider
So, not much to analyze here, Moreno's injury was worse than we had originally thought, moving Brettschneider into the starting lineup for a second match in a row, playing next to Sene.
I'm a firm believer in giving players more minutes when they perform well with the playing time they're given, so playing Brettschneider here instead of playing a five man midfield or starting a guy like Diego Fagundez is totally fine with me.
COACHES' CHALKBOARD AND STYLE OF PLAY
First and foremost, I'd like to take this opportunity to publicly high-five Benny Feilhaber for his performance on Saturday night. Nobody is a bigger critic of him than I am, and against Vancouver he was everything I wanted him to be and more. Benny was quick, tenacious, and was a stalwart in the defensive midfield all night long, tracking back and making some great plays in preserving the lead.
I'm not sure if Heaps went to Benny to spell out exactly what he was looking for, but with Kevin Alston and Chris Tierney getting stuck forward and exploited frequently all season, it certainly seems like adding more defensive responsibility to Benny was in the game plan.
One of the big keys to success on the night was the two wide midfielders (Benny and Lee Nguyen) stayed on their wings and dominated the touchlines. There weren't a lot of drifting forays into the middle of the field clogging up play, and this allowed Shalrie and Simms to control the middle of the field, which is what they do best.
With the middle of the field on lockdown, and the team's two best offensive midfielders patrolling the wings, New England looked scary, and at times, downright dominant.
Defensively, we knew going into the match that Sebastien Le Toux and Eric Hassli were going to be a tough matchup for the slightly undersized A.J. Soares, so the fact that Stephen McCarthy stepped up and played perhaps his best match of the season makes this victory a little sweeter. Being able to count on McCarthy is going to be vital to this team going forward, and as he continues to improve with each game, the defense is becoming all the more solid.
SUBSTITUTIONS AND COACHES' DECISIONS
All three substitutions were used in the match, and all made sense for different reasons:
Diego Fagundez for Saer Sene 72'
Fernando Cardenas for Lee Nguyen 79'
Alec Purdie for Blake Brettschneider 82'
Right off the bat, you know what I like about the subs? Every one of them had an offensive feel to it. No bunkering down, no parking the bus, just attack, attack, attack.
Saer Sene had been killing himself all over the field, and with the match seemingly well in hand, this seemed like a good time to get the youngster some minutes (home game, big lead).
Lee Nguyen DESERVED the ovation he got, and I'm glad Jay took him out so that he could receive it. Also, quite frankly, who better to replace him with than the hot hand of Cardenas?
Brettschneider played very well in my opinion. He did all the little things, flick ons, fighting for headers, and holding up play. Purdie has impressed me so far, and I like his professional approach to the game.
LOOKING AHEAD FOR THE REVS
One of my favorite matches of the year: Houston at home. While some rivalries are built on geography, this one has all the history: MLS Cup finals, and even a SuperLiga final (still one of my favorite memories as a Revs fan was watching the PK shootout in the seventh row of The Fort). As someone who was there for the Cup Final loss in D.C., and who was also there for the SuperLiga victory, I've just always enjoyed this fixture.
Where does New England stand heading into this weekend? Well, it's a cliché, but, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. This team is gelling, and playing at a much higher level than they were in March, and as they continue to climb up the table I don't think much has to change. The only change I can see is Jose Moreno rejoining the team when he's healthy. If Moreno is healthy, he plays, if not, you stick with Brettschneider and Sene up top.
I've stated it several times over, in print and on the Midnight Ride Podcast, Simms-Joseph-Feilhaber-Nguyen is far and away the best midfield group on this team. They all need to see the field, and preferably together, as much as possible.
I have jumped on the Stephen McCarthy bandwagon at central defense, and feel like he's earned his spot. These things happen in sports sometimes, when the starter gets hurt and the substitute does such a good job filling in, he ends up winning the job permanently (Tom Brady anyone?).
COUCH CAPTAIN'S LINEUP vs. HOUSTON DYNAMO (4-4-2) : Reis; Alston, McCarthy, Soares, Tierney; Nguyen, SImms, Joseph, Feilhaber; Sene, Moreno (Brettschneider)
Nothing changes from last week, the only caveat being the inclusion of Moreno if he returns to full health. Rowe will see time off the bench, as will Cardenas, but right now, you play the best eleven players you have, and that's the group you see here.
Let's get one thing straight: Houston is good. Very good. You're ging to need an identical performance from this lineup to have a chance to earn another result at home. With that being said, the way this team is coming together and performing right now? How can you bet against them?
PREDICTION: REVOLUTION 1 - DYNAMO 0