With the entire country enjoying a long weekend filled with barbecues, fireworks, and running for the ice cream truck, the New England Revolution puttered along on their march towards the end of the season with two very different looking draws at home.
While the offensive renaissance continued on Wednesday night against Chivas USA (the Revs scored 3 first half goals), it all came to a screeching halt on Saturday night with an indescribably poor 0-0 draw against Eastern Conference rival, Philadelphia Union.
With injuries always a factor, as well as the term "coaches' decision" (which we've hear a bunch from the Heaps' regime), the lineup continues to be forever changing. With the playoffs finally out of sight, it's time to once again play for next year.
Major League Soccer is always a bit veiled and murky when it comes to their contracts so it's not perfectly clear who's on the books and who's not in 2013, but it's time for the Revs to look ahead and see where this club is headed in the very near future. A future that starts right now.
NE Injury Report – August 28, 2012
DOUBTFUL: Blair Gavin (L hamstring tightness)
PROBABLE: AJ Soares (whiplash)
DOUBTFUL: Blair Gavin (L Disc Irritation)
OUT: Sainey Nyassi (R adductor strain), Saer Sene (L knee sprain), Bobby Shuttleworth (L knee sprain)
New England was relatively healthy for this home stand until Saer Sene tore his ACL, canceling him from the rest of the 2012 season. Nguyen and Soares were battling what were considered mild injuries, which gave New England almost a full complement of players heading into their 3 match in 8 day stretch.
JAY HEAPS LINEUP VS. CHIVAS USA: Reis (c), Tierney, Soares, McCarthy, Alston, Nguyen, Simms, Guy, Rowe, Bengtson, Sene
JAY HEAPS LINEUP VS. PHILADELPHIA: Reis (c), Alston, Barnes, McCarthy, Lechner, Nguyen, Simms, Feilhaber, Cardenas, Fagundez, Bengtson
The Revs' offense heading into the Chivas USA match had just come off one of its finest performances of the year, and it looked set to continue when Heaps named the lineup. Saer Sene and Jerry Bengtson were finally getting some time together on the field, Kelyn Rowe was really playing well, and Ryan Guy had earned his minutes with his energy and leadership.
The catch? Another "coaches' decision" for Benny Feilhaber. While Jay Heaps commented on the subject saying it was due to the congested schedule and giving his legs a rest, but quite frankly, it didn't feel that way at the time.
After the terrible news about Saer Sene, things changed a bit for the Philadelphia match, as we finally got to see a little more of Diego Fagundez, as well as Florian Lechner. I've been saying for quite some time that with the defense performing so poorly perhaps a shake up was needed, and sadly it took a rash of injuries for us to finally see it.
I had been calling for Darrius Barnes on several platforms, whether it be here at TBM, or on the Midnight Ride Podcast, and I finally got to see it against Philadelphia. Barnes isn't flashy, but he gets the job done, and after letting up SEVEN goals in the two previous matches, the Revs put up a clean sheet.
COACHES' CHALKBOARD AND STYLE OF PLAY
Offensively, this club has started to figure it out a little bit in recent weeks, but sadly, the Revs will be without their leading goal-scorer the rest of the way. Sene and Bengtson were really beginning to connect and score goals, so it'll be difficult to replace that type of offensive output.
In the midfield, it's been great seeing Ryan Guy get the minutes he's earned in recent years. Even under Steve Nicol, Guy always did what was asked of him, and did it with 100% effort. With Heaps being a new, first-year coach, that's exactly what he's looking for: guys that buy into HIS system. It's no surprise Guy has gotten the nod.
Lee Nguyen continues to be the dynamo on the wing we've all come to expect, but with Sene absent, and Feilhaber not getting consistent minutes, it appears Lee may have to shoulder a little bit of the goal scoring load as well. We know he's capable of doing so, but Nguyen sometimes has a problem with being selfish. I'd like to see a few more shots at goal from Nguyen, it's okay to be selfish every once in a while.
One of the biggest changes we've seen in the style of play recently is that it appears the wing backs (Alston and Tierney) aren't venturing forward quite as much. In the Chivas match, you rarely saw a run from Alston until late in the game, almost like Heaps was waiting to deploy him late in the match to run at tired defenders. I like the idea in theory, as it should shore up some of the defensive inadequacies we've seen recently, and the idea to be selective in the runs forward until late on may be crazy enough to work.
Going forward, it's going to be interesting to see how Jay Heaps handles being without his leading scorer. With Bengtson leaving the club for World Cup qualifying as well, it's going to get really interesting in Foxboro. The addition of Juan Carlos Toja will help, but that only adds another midfielder to the mix. Will a midfielder make the transition to striker? I have to be honest, the thought of watching Blake Brettschneider, Diego Fagundez, and Dimitry Imbongo doesn't sound like too much fun. Could Feilhaber or Nguyen find a new home up top?
SUBSTITUTIONS AND COACHES' DECISIONS
A bunch of moves were made over two matches, so let's just pick out a few:
On the whole, I really liked every sub in the Chivas USA match. Feilhaber got his minutes after Sene went down with the injury, Cardenas for Rowe has been a sub we've seen a bunch, and Diego Fagundez has shown that he performs better at home, so I felt like a 3-3 game at home was a good time to try and get the Beibergundez some playing time.
As far as the Philadelphia match was concerned, the bench was so short you really couldn't argue with much in the way of decision making. Imbongo got a run out which was nice to see with the club in next year mode, and as good as Ryan Guy has been playing, he deserved to get some minutes off the bench to try and make a difference in a very stale match.
It's really trying times once again in Revs Nation, and I've got a ton I need to say, so let's fire them out at you in a rapid-fire style:
- What the hell has happened to Clyde Simms? Is he sulking? Is he hurt? Remember in the first half of the year when the team was still alive and we all thought that these quiet, solid games were a good thing from Simms? Well, now the games are quiet, but not quite as solid. Maybe he's hit a wall, or is just playing out the string like a few other players seems to be doing, but I could really use the May Clyde Simms if he's still around somewhere.
- PLAY DARRIUS BARNES MORE. I hate that Soares and Stephen McCarthy got so comfortable, and by the looks of it, complacent. McCarthy was progressing incredibly well, making the transition to CB very smoothly, and then the improvements stopped, and he started going backwards. It's good to be reminded that your spot isn't given, it's earned, and Barnes is a more than capable replacement, as we saw Saturday against Philadelphia.
- Same goes for you too, A.J. Soares. Remember when we all thought you were the next team captain and in line for a USMNT call-up? Let's get that guy back.
- Figure out what Benny Feilhaber's deal is. Look, I'm WELL aware that we could all be making a HUGE deal out of all of this and it may turn out to be absolutely nothing, but the pictures on the TV screen don't lie, and the temper tantrums and flipping the bird don't help your image in New England. If you even care what your image is, for that matter.
- Bring on the kids! It's that time. 2012 is now just a big try-out for some of the lesser-used players in the club. That means you Tyler Polak, Alec Purdie, Mike Roach, and company! Give them a baptism by fire and play them against the MLS opposition. See what they've got, and if they're worth retaining in 2013. Why not?
- Keep Jerry Bengtson happy. I don't care if the guy wants to play in a friendly against the Boston Victory, you let him go. Keep him happy and engaged with the club. He's a huge piece for 2013 and beyond, and we don't need an unhappy DP.
- Last, but certainly not least, STAY THE COURSE. Don't you dare give up on the philosophy and style you've tried to implement. I highly doubt Jay Heaps has ever read this column, but if he does, pay attention to me this one time, coach. Don't you back down now. You've implemented a system, a belief, and a culture at the club. You've traded away the team's captain. You've rotated the lineup all summer long in search of the perfect XI. Everything you've done has had a purpose, and while things may not have gone your way in 2012, there's never been a better time to stick to your guns, your belief, and philosophy. Lead this team down the stretch, regroup in the winter, and come back in the spring kicking ass and taking names. No matter how difficult the transition has been, and for all the banter all over social media, there are those of us that are with you no matter what. So don't you change a thing now. Now's the time when the club needs a leader more than ever.