Jay Heaps' "Smash-Mouth Soccer"

Otto Greule Jr

Last year, the New England Revolution were all about attacking. It was the mantra behind the marketing campaign. So far this year, the attack has been replaced by a stout defense that does not let up many goals. However, it isn't very fun to watch.

What is the most important thing in soccer? Points. The main goal of a team is to try to get all possible points at home, and then - if you can - draw on the road. This is exactly what New England did in Seattle. Unfortunately, this was not a beautiful 0-0 where both keepers play out of their minds. This was the New England Revolution parking the bus and absorbing pressure, conceding possession, basically refusing to counter, and riding the coattails of Jose Goncalves and Bobby Shuttleworth to a point.

They did not win ugly, they tied ugly.

It seems to be the new style. No more is it "We will attack". No, this is something different. It's "grab a point through tough stubbornness." Yet, even with the point, there is reason to be concerned. Last year, MLS implemented a policy that the first tiebreaker for the playoffs would be Goals Scored. New England, despite its stellar, tough, hard-nosed new defense, has just a single, solitary goal on the season. So, while going for a road-point and playing defensively is brilliant, not even attempting to put together a counterattack is not. Grabbing a road point through ugly play is a frustrating decision that coaches have to make. Heaps made a tough call, fans are unhappy, but the team did steal a point. Sometimes a 0-0 draw can be more exciting than a win; other times, 0-0 draws feel like draining wastes of time. This was one of those times.

This was Seattle taking 13 shots, and New England taking 5 (with none on target). It is Seattle holding 68.4% of possession, and New England seeming to be okay with it. It is New England having less than half the passes Seattle had (261-596). It is 65% passing accuracy from the Revs, compared to 83% from the Sounders. And while the foul disparity was not as bad as one would think (14 fouls on Seattle, 16 on New England), the New England fouls were much more memorable. Ugly is almost too kind a word.

When you are over-matched, there is no shame in putting 10 or 11 men behind the ball and roughing it up a bit. Better teams have won bigger competitions doing it. This is what Heaps chose to do. While not even close to a beautiful game, they did pull out a point in a difficult place to play. But even then, we need to assess who the Seattle Sounders truly are. As of this moment, Seattle does not appear to be the juggernaut that everyone labeled them as prior to the season. In fact, Seattle has the least points in all of MLS. Additionally, Seattle has failed to defend the counterattack, which is why it's odd that every time New England had an opportunity to try one, they slowed the ball down. This was win at all cost. This was smash and grab. This was only five games into a much longer season.

There was no attempted win. It was just a point grab. A point grab with no goals, and no attempts on goal, is frustrating. It was an abhorrent match to watch, and for the second time this season there were 0 shots on target from New England. However, it's a good result despite its ugliness.

This was not the game Jay Heaps promised last year. This was not the flowing creative game we expected out of players like Lee Nguyen, Juan Toja, and Kelyn Rowe. This was points-at-any-cost. This was "smash-mouth soccer". New England went to Seattle, punched Seattle in the mouth, and stole an arguably undeserved point - an offense-less point at that.

So here is the question: if getting points on the road looks like this, are we willing to put up with it? New England sports fans (be they Celtics, Red Sox, Bruins, or Patriots fans) are fickle in general. Is getting a point by any means necessary worth sitting through, if it just may mean your record is better than last year? Are you willing to support a team who is unbearable to watch, if they end up good enough to make the playoffs? Or would you rather go back to attacking soccer and risk losing?

Maybe we can get a counterattack to go with this much improved defense, and, hopefully, this does not end up as an "either-or." Right now, though, the lack of shots on goal (forget about actual goals) is disturbing. Even if we are getting points.

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