Road trips are one of the more difficult things that coaching staffs have to deal with in soccer, especially ones that require you to play 3 matches in 8 days (it's 4 matches in two weeks really, if you go back to NYRB) so Saturday night's result in Kansas City shouldn't be glossed over by any stretch of the imagination. New England traveled from Foxboro, to Montreal, to Kansas City in one weeks time, and while the earlier results may overshadow this draw, don't take this massive point for granted.
One of the recent trends that continued in Kansas City, was the veteran players (and thought-to-be first team players) getting benched, or in Clyde Simms case this week, getting left off the team sheet completely. Revolution Head Coach Jay Heaps is clearly proving to his guys that the recent results aren't good enough to get the job done, and he is making an example of players that were thought "untouchable".
No one's job is safe in New England, and you've got to earn it every week, which is a breath of fresh air for Revs fans, and you can only hope it motivates the players in the right way. The number of matches remaining is dwindling, and the time for a run is now.
In this week's Couch Captain we take a look at the draw on Saturday night in the oppressive heat, analyze the lineup decisions made, and figure out what the best course of action is for this Revs team going forward.
NE Injury Report - July 20, 2012
QUESTIONABLE: Shalrie Joseph (hip irritation)
OUT: Alec Purdie (L ankle sprain)
Stephen McCarthy was expected to return to the lineup against SKC which was a huge boost to the team's defensive efforts, as he's become one of the cornerstones of this new Revs back four. Quite frankly, the return of Moreno didn't really excite me as much as I thought it would given how poorly the strikers have been in recent matches. His attitude is dropping yet again, and fans (and seemingly Jay Heaps as well) are beginning to see right through the Colombian #9.
Shlarie Joseph was definitely a concern for Revs fans, because even at 60%, Shalrie can do some good things on the field, so having the captain in the lineup was incredibly important.
JAY HEAPS LINEUP vs. SPORTING KC: Reis, Barnes, Soares, McCarthy, Alston, Tierney, Joseph, Feilhaber, Rowe, Nguyen, Guy
Jay Heaps went and channelled his in Vicente Del Bosque (Spain National Team manager) and decided to go with a hybrid 4-6-0 formation in this one, which shocked a few people in the Twitter-sphere for sure. Now, obviously they didn't line up that way, Ryan Guy was used as the target man up front, which I, for one, was skeptical about just given Guy's sheer lack of size against two of the more physical CB's in the league.
On the team sheet, it looked as though Nguyen and Feilhaber would be playing underneath Guy, and for portions of the match it almost looked like the two were interchanging in the middle of the field which I really liked a lot.
Kelyn Rowe got the start over Cardenas, and it just seems like Heaps can't really grasp who should get the start on the right wing between Rowe and Fernando Cardenas, and quite frankly, neither can I. Neither player has really distanced himself from the other, so this platooning system seems like the best course of action at the moment.
The decision to play Darrius Barnes at left back, pushing Chris Tierney to left-mid, seemed to work out quite well for the Revs, as it gave Tierney more time to create down the left flank, and gave the defense a speed boost on the left. Good decision by Heaps there, I thought Barnes played rather well, and Tierney looked more dangerous on the offensive end.
It was Matt Reis in goal, and judging by how well he played on the night, the message has been received, and the Revs standout keeper seems to be back to his stellar form.
Lastly, where was Clyde Simms? No injury seemed to be reported anywhere, and no reason seemed to be given. I find it difficult to believe that it was a "coaching decision" or a point was trying to be made, because if there's been one guy all year that you could count on, it's been Simms. I personally am chalking this one up to a congested match schedule, but as we've seen with Heaps recently, it wouldn't surprise me to find out this was more than just a rest for the veteran Simms.
COACHES' CHALKBOARD AND STYLE OF PLAY
We got into it a little bit while breaking down the team sheet, but Saturday night's formation and style definitely was something new that we hadn't seen before. The offense seemed like it was going to be a little more continental, breaking the team down through their superior midfield, and trying to link up with the speedy Guy.
The philosophy made sense: SKC has one of the fastest, and talented offenses in the league, so if you could win the midfield, and slow the game down, you could possibly hold them up and steal a result. Needless to say, mission accomplished.
Ryan Guy performed admirably at the top, using his great vertical leaping ability to his advantage, winning long-balls when they were played his way. The center of the midfield did a stellar job of winning possession also, which I thought was impressive given the absence of Simms in the CDM role.
Once again the duo of Feilhaber and Nguyen looked dangerous, and apologies if I come across as biased here, but I really felt like this team was good enough to take all three points on the night. The midfield was creating opportunities, and the defense was holding one of the best offenses to very limited chances.
Moving Chris Tierney to left mid, a role with less defensive responsibilities, really showed Revs fans what they saw at the tail end of last year with Chris' abilities to create chances with his left foot. The great cross to Benny Feilhaber is the first that comes to my mind, but there were more than just that one cross. When Chris is allowed to concentrate a little more on creating chances offensively, he's really quite good. Perhaps with Darrius Barnes performing well, it showed that Heaps can go back to this formation if needed.
Lastly, to be fair, this team DID need a striker in it. Guy did the best he could, but the lack of size just as a little too much to overcome. His early chance was due to his speed and vision, not his hold up play, and I feel like a Saer Sene, or Jerry Bengston would have made a difference. Also, given the physical nature of the SKC central defenders, Jose Moreno may have been a good play here also. Strong, physical hold-up play with good vision may have been what the Revs needed to steal that all-important goal.
SUBSTITUTIONS AND COACHES' DECISIONS
Some good substitutions on Saturday night. They all served a purpose, and changed the shape of the match:
Fernando Cardenas for Darrius Barnes 58'
Saer Sene for Kelyn Rowe 58'
Blake Brettschneider for Stephen McCarthy 78'
Cardenas and Sene came in at the same time and changed the dynamic of the team immediately: Cardenas went to RM, Guy to LM, and Tierney back to LB. The Revs now had speed on both wings, and a true striker, which I thought changed the squad for the better. Cardenas made an instant impact and came close a several occasions, proving his super sub role should continue.
While the McCarthy sub was injury-related (cramping) I was surprised at what move was made by Jay Heaps. A 0-0 match on the road in the 78th minute usually wouldn't call for a striker to be subbed in by the road team, but it does continue the trend that this team refuses to bunker, and is always looking to attack. I personally thought that a move for some speed, like Sainey Nyassi, would have been the play there. Another incredibly fast winger/forward type that could run at exhausted defenders in the heat. Diego Fagundez could have been played there also, if the team wanted to continue to attack.
Good result at a bad time. I think that's what I've characterized this particular match as. We had a nice little debate about it with the guys from New England Soccer Today in the post-game, and I think that this match, in a vacuum, is a great result. You went on the road and in the dreadful heat, drew with the first-place team in your conference. That being said, with the dropped points in the last two matches, the draw isn't enough.
With the Revs already equalling their win total from last year by the halfway mark of the season, it produces both good, and bad problems: it's good to reinvigorate the fan-base with a strong first half, but now the fans expect more. Relative to the last few seasons, this has been a great first half for the Revolution. Really attractive soccer for long stretches of time, a fun group to watch, and some gorgeous goals have all been positive additions to the club, but now the question lingers: Can you take the next step?
It's been refreshing to see this team grow up together and gel, however, with veteran players getting benched, results not going their way recently, and double-digit matches still left to be played, can this team rise above and achieve? We're past the half-way point now, and this team is still searching for an identity, believe it or not. The lineup continues to change, and players are still playing multiple positions. If this team is going to make a run for November, it needs to find out who they are, otherwise, this season's story will only be half-written.