Saturday afternoon may have seemed like a drab, sloppy display in the midst of some extremely windy and bitterly cold conditions, but make no mistake about it, there were some things to take away from the Revs home opener.
First, this defensive unit, including Matt Reis, look very, VERY good. We're beginning to see the footprint of former defender Jay Heaps on this team, and if they can continue this strong run of defensive performances, they are going to be in every match they play.
Secondly, it's pretty evident that the Revs essentially received TWO top ten picks in this year's draft, because not only is Andrew Farrell an absolute day-one stud, Scott Caldwell (a homegrown player) has shown that he is more than capable of blending right into the squad and contributing in MLS.
Lastly, unfortunately, is the jumbled mess that is the Revolution midfield in it's current state. Players seemingly playing out of their preferred or natural position, no cohesion, no linking up from the back line, and definitely no service to the strikers. Where are the answers to the riddle? Can we blame the weather conditions a little (I've gotta be honest, I kind of am a little)?
Let's take a look at Saturday a little closer and see if we can start making some sense of the Revs solid start to the season.
REVOLUTION LINEUP vs SKC: REIS; ALSTON, SOARES, GONÇALVES, FARRELL; CALDWELL, SIMMS; NGUYEN, TOJA, ROWE; BARRETT
We knew it was going to be a tough ask without Jerry Bengtson to see stellar forward play but I was quite pleased with Heaps' choice of Barrett. Plenty of experience, mostly healthy, and a good hold-up type of player (at least from what we've seen so far).
Scott Caldwell took the field once again, which is a great sign that Heaps has faith in the rookie so early. New England hasn't shown any hesitation under this current regime to play the rookies, which I really like.
Other than that it was business as usual with the lineup, and it looked, at least on paper, like the Revs had enough quality to produce a result, which they ultimately did.
GAME PLAN AND STYLE OF PLAY
The formation looked relatively similar to what we have seen, and perhaps this is where the trouble lies. I admittedly called for a 4-2-3-1 formation to start the season, but after seeing it deployed, I may not be so keen on the idea much longer.
It's not that the Revs don't have the personnel, because they do. It's just the lack of cohesion and link-up play when it comes to the midfield. We all know public enemy number one right now is the defenders' seemingly unhealthy obsession with the long ball, and that is certainly a huge reason why this formation isn't working.
If New England are insistent on continuing to hoof that ball long, then perhaps a second striker to lay off headed balls to a runner would be a good idea? If the 4-2-3-1 is here to stay for the relative future, the plan should be simple: build from the back, and stop giving possession away so easily.
The midfield alignment may also need to be discussed, as I am feeling more and more like there are three central midfielders out there trying to play different positions. It could just be a case of "most midfielders are more comfortable centrally" but I don't know if you can statistically quantify that or if there's any way to prove it. What I do know, is that Kelyn Rowe and Lee Nguyen BOTH seem more comfortable in the middle.
Should we talk about Juan Toja? If Twitter is any indication, results are a pretty mixed bag when it comes to Toja. some like him, some reluctantly tolerate him, others just flat out don't care for him. I fall more on the negative side, but I see what he brings to the table. In a steadily built up attack his vision and passing is quite good. However, therein lies the problem: the Revs don't seem to like to play that way. Lately, it's just Toja trying to chase down poorly played long balls, which is then bringing his lack of pace to light. If Toja is going to stay in the lineup, he absolutely needs the play to settle down, and go through him in the center of the park.
As far as the strikers go, it's Jerry Bengtson's team, with Saer Sene slowly approaching on the horizon. If New England can continue to grind out results through the spring, a healthy combo of Sene and Bengtson migh just be exactly what the doctor ordered for the Revs offensive woes.
SUBSTITUTIONS AND COACHING DECISIONS
RYAN GUY for CHAD BARRETT 64'
Only one substitution for Heaps, which I found a little interesting. The game was an absolute struggle, and the fact that there was only one change made, sort of surprised me.
This tells me quite a bit, if I'm over-analyzing things. It means Kalifa Cisse isn't healthy enough, it means he trusts no forward enough after Barrettt, and it also means that there;s a good chance he felt like riding out the result and taking the draw against a good SKC team.
Whatever his motives were, Heaps saw no reason to change much of anything in the course of the match, and it will be interesting to see how this philosophy changes over the season.
I'll be perfectly honest with you: I didn't see too many things I could have changed wither. Perhaps Dorman for Simms, or even Fagundez for Toja (move Rowe inside, play Diego on the right). Other than that, this match was just one ugly affair, so I would also be perfectly content just riding it out and taking the point.
Repeat after me: it's wicked early (I don't even remotely care if that's proper English). You know what we're overlooking at this particular point? We're all on social media ranting about this and that, and we're not even realizing this team has two clean sheets out of three matches, and FOUR points from two road matches and a home opener in blustery conditions against one of the best teams in MLS.
The Revs aren't at full strength health-wise, it's still March, and Jerry Bengtson was away for the home opener. Now I'm not drinking the Kool-Aid or being a company yes-man here. I'm being a fan of over 17 years and simply stating that these things take time, and it's actually a GOOD thing that we're a little unhappy with a four point start. That shows progress, and it also shows a fan-base that wants and expects more.
Some things you can take away from the first few weeks are pretty important also. Matt Reis has two clean sheets in two matches, and that defensive back line, apart from the poor distribution, has been excellent. These two things are massively important, and will continue to keep this Revs team progressing forward.
As far as FC Dallas is concerned, New England will see the return of Bengtson, it will also be another week for Cisse to gain some fitness, and fan should expect a good result at home. With the defense playing at the top of it's game, and Matt Reis dialing the clocks back and producing great performances, there's no doubt March will be going out like a lion in Foxboro.