There's an old sports cliché about how "sometimes a team just has your number", and I think no truer words could be said about this Toronto FC team in 2012. For some strange reason, the Revs struggle against the worst team in the league, and it showed once again on Saturday night.
Now let's be completely fair here: New England DOMINATED this match. The field was so far tilted towards the TFC goal that I think Bobby Shuttleworth took a nap mid-game. However, as we all know, it only takes one, and that's precisely what Toronto could muster, giving them all three points.
In this week's Couch Captain it's time to break down the loss that snapped the Revs' five-game unbeaten run and see what could have been done to prevent such a disappointing defeat.
PROBABLE: Tim Murray (L knee menisectomy)
OUT: Alec Purdie (L ankle sprain)
Not a shabby injury list meant a pretty solid crew of players for Jay Heaps to select from. Moreno wasn't going to be pushed, and Kelyn Rowe was serving that god-awful suspension, so there were a couple of pieces missing, but with Shalrie getting healthier, things were looking good.
JAY HEAPS' LINEUP vs TORONTO FC: Shuttleworth, Tierney, Soares, McCarthy, Alston, Nguyen, Feilhaber, Simms, Cardenas, Sene, Brettschneider
So the Bobby Shuttleworth experience continued on Saturday, and I for one was pleased. I like the fact that no one's spot is given to them, and that your name on the team sheet is earned every week. Bobby played well in the 2-0 victory over NYRB, and I'm glad Jay played the hot keeper.
Other than the decision to play Shuttleworth the lineup was fairly understandable: Without Rowe, Cardenas got the start on the right wing, Shalrie is still nursing that knee so he began on the bench, and with Jerry Bengtson still getting acclimated and Moreno banged up, it was Blake Brettschneider getting the start up top. Everything made sense in this lineup, which made Revs fans even more confident going into the match.
COACHES' CHALKBOARD AND STYLE OF PLAY
Still a strong, attack-minded approach from Jay which has produced some fantastic-looking soccer at times, and Saturday was no different. New England looked absolutely dominant, and lacked only the final touch.
I liked seeing Lee Nguyen continuing to drift into the center of the field to team up with Benny Feilhaber, which created a myriad of chances on the night. Brettschneider was in his usual hold-up striker role, which he unfortunately has struggled with lately, but with Saer Sene partnering up with him, I was hopeful the two could link up.
Frustratingly, the team played down the left flank far too much, and at times completely ignored the right side of the field, which was slightly maddening given how well Henry, the Toronto FC right back, was playing. There were long periods of time where the ball was played down the left flank, Cardenas would drift into the center, and there was absolutely no one down the right hand side. I'd like to see the Revs become a little more balanced in the upcoming road trip, as the more predictable they are, the easier they are to defend.
Speaking of defending, you truly saw how vital Stephen McCarthy has become to this team when the side struggled in his absence, especially on the only goal of the match. The back four has become very cohesive, and has grown up together all season, however when there is a disturbance in that unit, you can see some of the old issues return with poor positioning and communication.
SUBSTITUTIONS AND COACHES DECISIONS
All three subs were made but unfortunately only two were tactical after Heaps had to sub off the injured McCarthy after just six minutes.
Shalrie Joseph for Stephen McCarthy 6'
Jerry Bengtson for Blake Brettschneider HT
Good sub for Bengtson at the half, as BB was struggling to link with his teammates throughout the first half. The move was bringing on another talented striker to pair with Sene, in hopes of catching the equalizer.
Diego was brought on for a seemingly-invisible Fernando Cardenas with just under 20 to go, and I was more than content with the choice (I had actually tweeted the exact sub five minutes earlier). Diego was another dynamic piece going forward, giving the Revs an embarrassment of riches in the attacking department.
I truly wasn't as disappointed as most were with this performance. The Revs put on a dominant display of attacking soccer, and if it weren't for a hot goalkeeper standing on his head the entire match, New England could have won this match easily.
One point of contention, however, is the lack of production from set pieces. The Revs earned THIRTEEN corner kicks, and were fouled FIFTEEN times, creating a bevy of opportunities to create quality chances. Whether it was Chris Tierney, Lee Nguyen or Benny Feilhaber over the ball, New England just couldn't quite formulate the right plan in dead-ball situations.
With teams resorting to hacking away at the Revs' talented attackers, there is going to be plenty more set-piece opportunities going forward, and if the word playoffs is to be uttered at all this fall, the squad is going to hav to find a way to capitalize on their chances.
New England now heads out on the road for a three game trip starting in Montreal this Wednesday night. Bengston will only be available for the Wednesday match as he then heads out for the Olympics with the Honduran national team, which puts more pressure on the likes of Nguyen, Feilhaber, and Sene to create scoring opportunities in their DP striker's absence.
Don't expect much to change in philosophy or style, however, as Jay Heaps has the Revs playing some of the most attractive soccer in MLS. With Moreno hopefully regaining some fitness, the Revs should be able to bring a few points back with them from their travels.