FOXBORO, MA - MAY 2: Fernando Cardenas #80 of the New England Revolution is congratulated by teammate Saer Sene #39 of the New England Revolution after he scored against the Colorado Rapids during the first half at Gillette Stadium on May 2, 2012 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. Sene also scored in the first half. (Photo by Winslow Townson/Getty Images)
Steve Nicol's coaching style irked me in one very specific way. I first realized it during the 2010 season when the losses started pouring in. Whether due to lack of depth, lack of talent or sheer unpreparedness--Coach Steve Nicol lacked the ability to adjust his strategy or game plan on the fly as a match developed or devolved into a loss. In a game where the Revs were still competing, Nicol would utilize just one of his three subs. This baffled me. Adding some speed up top could give you a counter attack option or pressure a defense out possessing you horribly holding a lead. Watching possible game changers sit on the bench infuriated me. It showed a lack of ambition on Nicol's part and probably sent a horrible message of no confidence in the players on the bench. Steve Nicol's "style" eventually became boring and mundane, focused on not losing games and stealing a win rather than fielding an offense capable of dictating the pace and imposing their will, focused on winning games.
Enter Jay Heaps: "We're going to attack."
It's difficult to look at the first few games to assess his coaching ability and use of substitutes as players were still solidifying their roles and as Heaps tried to find the best way to shove a host of talented midfielders into a lineup.
Jay Heaps has utilized his three substitutes per game, his three chances to change the course of the game or ensure it stays the same beautifully this season. Analyzing game specific situations and assessing his squad, making the necessary changes has been a huge asset to the club in 2012. His employment of players change depending on a host of factors which is indicative that the staff is analyzing data and making informed decisions based off preparation. For example, Diego Fagundez, a hometown hero will more often be employed as a sub during a home game. Upon entry into a match Diego may just only spark the offense but he'll ignite the home crowd as well.
After a fantastic preseason, midfielder Kelyn Rowe solidified himself as a starter on the fresh, new look Revs. After getting "lost" in some early matches he was eventually relegated to the bench. This has apparenlty left him hungry to prove himself because Rowe has been explosive in substitude appearences. For anyone that needs proof watch the home game against Chicago Fire. Rowe came in the 64th minute, the offensive began generating chance after chance and 5 minutes later Rowe put a nail in the coffin to make a stale 1-0 lead and sure 2-0 win. Rowe has appeared as a sub in four of the last six games.
Fernando Cardenas has been the most used sub on this team. Staring only 4 of his fourteen appearences this year Cardenas has been an absolute nusciance for opposing defenders. He's small, he's flashy and he's got a quick trigger. His addition late in the game has jump started the offense repeatedly and brought a simmering attack back to boil. Cardenas has racked up an assist in each of his last substitude appearences. Best example of Cardenas ability as a sub was late in the 6/30 Seattle 2-2 tie where his two stepovers and subsequent cross led to the Fagundez equalizing header. A tired outside midfielder won't give you that in the 94th minute.
Overall substitutes have been far more effective in 2012. We have depth, and not just warm body type depth, actual ballers. Jay Heaps reads the game and situations and has consistently made great subs all season. Up 2-0 against hated Red Bull team at home? Nicol would have put in Pat Phelan and dropped 11 guys into his own half and counted the clock while you fell asleep in your seat. What did Jay Heaps do? He put in Shalrie Joseph who he could have rested, debuted a fresh forward in Jerry Bengtson and brought the crowd the their feet with Diego at the end. Those choices are that of a coach who is confident in his team and hungry to make a statement. A comfortable 2-0 lead under Heaps creates a far better brand of soccer, you could tell by the crowd Saturday, it was unusually racous and fun for a game we had under our control.
Mid Season Grade A-