FOXBORO, MA - JULY 14: Chris Tierney #8 of New England Revolution sprays water on his head during the second half against the Toronto FC at Gillette Stadium on July 14, 2012 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Winslow Townson/Getty Images)
First it was defending set pieces that caused the Revolution so much trouble this season, but now it seems to be taking them that's become the issue. This past weekend against Toronto, the Revs had a number of dead-ball situations that they could have taken advantage of, but not one of them produced a goal. In fact, the Revolution managed to tally eleven corner kicks in the second half. Yet none of them found the back of the net.
"Corner kicks are a hard thing to defend," said Jay Heaps after the match. "Actually, I think the more corner kicks you have the easier it becomes (to defend)." And that certainly seemed to be the case for New England Saturday night. Heaps went on to say, "We have four or five plays that we run on corner kicks - different movements - and after 11 of them, you pretty much exhaust them. It's like running the same play in basketball, you start to get a rhythm and you start to know. So, we tried to change it up, we just didn't do enough. We ran out of ideas and they defended well."
What seems perhaps even more curious is that the Revolution do not appear to have a dedicated free kick taker as of late. Against Toronto, three different players tried their hand at various dead-ball situations--Chris Tierney, Benny Feilhaber, and Lee Nguyen.
Tierney used to be the go-to guy for set-pieces. But recently the New England native has been a bit inconsistent with his service. Against Toronto, Tierney's corners weren't half bad, particularly the one in the 84th minute that almost resulted in an equalizer from Jerry Bengtson's head and then Shalrie Joseph's hand.
But free-kicks on the left side of the pitch seem more and more to fall into Feilhaber's court. Benny attempted a few on Saturday night, but only one stands out as coming very close.Towards the end of the game, Lee Nguyen stepped in to take a left-sided free kick and almost curled one into the upper 90, but it strayed wide.
Dead-ball opportunities are always situations where a team needs to capitalize, and the Revs have shown more and more that they are unable to. Comically, last season, the Revs seemed to only produce goals off set-pieces, but this season it seems the other way around.
"The set pieces were not good enough all the way around," said Heaps. "It was very disappointing. Corner kicks I thought were OK, but when we're talking about free kicks, the chances we had were short, they were over. That to me is disappointing."
As far as corner kicks go, the Revs have totaled 76 this season, including Saturday's match against Toronto. From those 76 corners, the Revolution have scored 1 goal. So, that sort of begs the question: When will the Revs start taking corners more seriously? Or is it more a matter of luck--or lack thereof, rather--that's keeping New England from converting them?
"It's just a matter of executing during the game," said Chris Tierney, who has taken 36 of the Revs' 76 free kicks this season. "We had a few that got cut out and weren't great, so it's disappointing, but that's a small part of the game. We had enough chances on set pieces to score goals with plenty of good service in there, and we got one on goal. There's two aspects; the service has to be good and we have to attack the ball and we didn't do any of those."
With two open roster spots still to tinker with while still within the summer transfer window, the Revs may want to consider bringing in a player who is a real ace with set pieces, if only to push the likes of Tierney and Feilhaber to improve upon their own. It is unlikely that New England will be able to find themselves the next Graham Zusi or Brad Davis, but free-kicks are an important part of the game which can produce any number of opportunities--as was seen on Saturday--so they will certainly need to improve upon them moving forward into the second half of the season, especially if teams continue a trend of breaking down the Revs' rhythm like Toronto did.