It's been a long, arduous ten match winless stretch, but at long last, it has come to an end. The New England Revolution got the gorilla off their back last Wednesday night and defeated Columbus 2-0.
The crazy part of it all? It was done with a few fresh faces, and some unsung heroes. With players injured, star players in limbo, and an upcoming FIFA International Break, Jay Heaps got creative, and it paid off in a big way.
In this week's Couch Captain, we rejoice in victory, because quite frankly, it's been awhile, and we deserve some sunshine around here for once!
NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION -- OUT: FW Saer Sene (L knee ACL tear); DOUBTFUL: MF Blair Gavin (L disc irritation); MF Sainey Nyassi (R adductor strain); PROBABLE: GK Bobby Shuttleworth (L knee sprain)
We all know about the loss of Saer Sene for the rest of the season, so it didn't come as a surprise. However, I have one gripe: BLAIR GAVIN. Can you even trade injured players in this league? I thought players had to pass a physical for any transaction to go through? The second he landed in New England he was put on the injury report and has been there ever since. Once again, shows you JUST HOW MUCH THE FRONT OFFICE WANTED JOSEPH GONE. They were so eager to find a trade partner, they took a player in return who wasn't fully healthy.
JAY HEAPS LINEUP VS. COLUMBUS: Reis, Alston, Barnes, McCarthy, Lechner, Nguyen, Guy, Simms, Rowe, Imbongo, Fagundez
So, without their two best strikers (Jerry Bengtson was on international duty with Honduras for their WCQ with Cuba) Heaps gave some vital game time experience to their two most promising forwards in Dimitry Imbongo and Diego Fagundez.
In a surprise wrinkle, we saw Kevin Alston at left back for the banged up Chris Tierney, and judging by his play, Alston possesses one of the most dynamic skill sets in MLS. This also meant the return of Flo Lechner to the lineup, which added to the Revs struggling attack given Lechner's service ability. Darrius Barnes continued his stellar play in the center of defense and his partnership with Stephen McCarthy posed a very physically imposing style of play at the back.
In the midfield, Ryan Guy cemented his place in the starting XI, and once again Benny Feilhaber was left out, which really indicates that things aren't rosy between coach and player. Kelyn Rowe earned some more minutes, and continued to be a force out on the wing, providing pace and energy all night.
I really have no issue with this lineup given what Heaps had available. Obviously you'd want Benny Feilhaber to play given the fact he's most likely the best midfielder on the team, but if the relationship and chemistry isn't there between Benny and his coaches/teammates, you can't see him getting the nod to start.
COACHES CHALKBOARD AND STYLE OF PLAY
Without their strike tandem, the Revs offensive gameplan seemed relatively simple: high pressure, don't let the defense breathe. This was most evident on the second goal of the night when Imbongo pressured Chad Marshall into the poor back pace that resulted in an own goal. Fagundez and Imbongo both possess the speed and motor to pressure defenses, and on this night it proved to be a great tactic.
Defensively, the Revs looked solid. With Lechner down the right, the service was better through that side, and Alston added a little tweak in the attack with him coming down the left flank instead of the right. Barnes and McCarthy are the two most physical CB's on the Revs and it showed on Wednesday night, as the pair locked down the talented Crew offense with their strength and prowess in the air.
Inn the midfield, Clyde Simms assumed his usual role, and while his play has plateaued as the summer months have worn on, it's comforting to know the Revs have a solid, dependable CDM to pencil in every week. Ryan Guy has basically forced Jay Heaps' hand with his solid play, but it has seemingly come at the expense of Feilhaber, as it was Guy in the center of the midfield on Wednesday. Rowe and Nguyen commanded the wings, using their superior speed and flowing play to overpower the Crew defense.
SUBSTITUTIONS AND COACHES DECISIONS
How far deep into the doghouse is Benny Feilhaber? Benny didn't even come off the bench as a sub, and while I have no problem chalking it up to "the playoffs are out of reach so why not give the young guys a run out?" but usually when you give the youngsters some playing time it doesn't come at the expense of your star midfielder.
Chris Tierney for Diego Fagundez 73'
Blake Brettschneider for Dimitry Imbongo 79'
Fernando Cardenas for Kelyn Rowe 91'
Nothing crazy of note outside of the omission of Feilhaber and Soares. Both players have had long campaign, and I'm sure if the spots on the bench were merely for rest purposes that they really relished to opportunity to rest the knocks they've picked up throughout the year.
It was good to see Brettschneider back on the field for the Revs after being buried on the depth chart after the arrivals of Bengtson and Imbongo. While BB does have a different skill set than the others, his solid hold up play and physical nature was very effective in killing off the match for the victory.
It was great to cover a match and not feel like it was a chore. The Revs played an aggressive, physical style of soccer that while not pretty, was very effective. I really liked what I saw from Imbongo on the night, and truly enjoyed watching his development right in front of our eyes. Fagundez showed why he's one of the best young talents in the league, and Kevin Alston just continues to chug along in 2012 showing everyone just how talented he can be.
With a little break between matches for the Revs, expect a nearly full strength complement of players for New England against heated rivals D.C. United on Saturday night. While it won't be clear how well Bengtson will bounce back from the qualifiers until later in the week, you'd have to think he'd be in the squad, which will only bolster the Revs chances even further.
My only half-gripe this week is the Feilhaber situation. Whatever the solution is, it'd be better if it happened quietly, away from the rest of the squad. It's always difficult to read into these sorts of things because we aren't there behind closed doors, and we certainly don't know what it's like when it's just the players and coaches day in and day out. That being said, clearly there's something not clicking between Feilhaber and the Revs coaching staff, and while he continues to be the best midfielder on the team, he can't seems to find a spot on the field.
With the season dwindling down to the final handful of matches, it's time to build towards something special in 2013. The team is young, poised, and is now gaining some much needed game experience that will only help as they enter the offseason and look ahead to next season. With only two home matches left, I expect some of the experimenting to continue, so look for some lineup shuffling and tweaking as the Revs head towards the home stretch.