Let's get one thing straight right away about Saturday: I'm THRILLED with the result. If you were to offer me a point on the road at one of MLS' most difficult stadiums to play in, I'll say thank you and smile.
That being said, you can feel a sense of frustration around Revs' circles, and it certainly looks like more of the same in the final third from Heaps' men. However, should we be that worried?
The Revs are currently MLS' best defensive team, which has gotten them off to a 5 point start in the 2013 campaign. It's not great, but they haven't played their way out of the race or any match they've played in.
So, with that being said, let's dive into Saturday's match and look ahead to the big clash at the weekend with New York and see if there are any answers or paths we haven't gone down yet.
New England Revolution Starting XI vs. Seattle: Bobby Shuttleworth; Chris Tierney, Jose Gonçalves, AJ Soares, Andrew Farrell; Lee Nguyen, Clyde Simms, Kalifa Cisse, Kelyn Rowe, Juan Toja; Jerry Bengtson
Chris Tierney slotted into Kevin Alston's role, which came as no surprise to many. While several of my fellow Revs bloggers and pundits may have thought Darrius Barnes could fit the role a little better, I understand that with the team struggling offensively, Tierney's free kick prowess and ability to create width was attractive to Heaps.
Kalifa Cisse returned to the starting lineup, which was great to see. He may not seem as technically "smooth" as Simms, but his raw power and aggression give the Revs a little bite and edge, and I like that.
As for the rest of the attack going forward nothing changed, as fans saw Nguyen on one side, Rowe on the other, and Juan Toja in the middle of it all. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results. With the Revs scoreless streak now at an all time high, it might be time for a switch.
GAME PLAN and STYLE OF PLAY
Get the easy assessment out of the way: I honestly can't remember a defense that started off this solid, or for that matter, played this cohesively at any time. We've seen guys like Alexi Lalas, Michael Parkhurst, and even Jay Heaps patrol the Revs back line at some point, and I truly can't remember any back four playing any better than this one is right now.
While losing Alston will be a blow to the team's defensive core, if the philosophy stays the same, and the output from Soares and Gonçalves continues, this defense is going to be stout all season long, as I don't see it slowing down at any point.
Also, when speaking about the Revolution's great start to the year defensively, you have to mention the great work being put in by BOTH goalkeepers. It's something I mentioned on the Midnight Ride a week or so ago: what makes this defensive run so impressive, is that they've done it with TWO keepers back there, proving that the philosophy and chemistry are working together in harmony.
Next, this conundrum of a midfield. So many out-standing questions that we could tackle, but let's stick to the big ones. Is a five-man midfield too much? At the moment, the answer is still no, and as long as the clean sheets continue to pile up, I'd fancy saying that I think it's working. Both Simms and Cisse have been good on different nights and have brought different styles to the center of the park, which stabilizes the midfield and controls our own defensive third as well.
Is it the three midfielders that are pushing forward that are the problem? Ah, now we're getting closer to the center of the maze. In my opinion, it's just not working out between these three. Why? They're all, for better or worse, more inclined to play centrally. I recall several times on Saturday when Rowe would have possession out wide but then would take the ball in the middle, where it all gets bogged down offensively. This team needs more width to create open spaces, and that may start with playing players who are more naturally inclined to play out wide.
Also, in terms of the midfield, Jay Heaps just simply isn't getting enough out of Lee Nguyen. There, I said it. He's shown at times that he'll go down easily, isn't particularly strong on the ball, and with the midfield getting all crunched up at times, he can't get to open spaces and let his creativity flow, which is when he's at his best.
I'm not going to sit here and call Saer Sene the savior of this 2013 Revs team, but he's definitely the cavalry. Just his mere introduction into the game on Saturday brought a little more excitement to the pitch as it seemed like most players knew what he was capable of. While I truly wish and hope that Heaps doesn't push him too far too fast, he may not have a choice if the Revs continue to struggle offensively.
Andy Dorman for Kalifa Cisse 64'
Saer Sene for Juan Toja 74'
Obviously good stuff all around here, with both changes having some underlying injury backstory to them. Heaps' doesn't want to rush Cissé back too quickly and subbed him off for the veteran Dorman, who is steady and solid, and of course Saer Sene returned for the first time since late August, taking off the ineffective Toja.
Keep fighting the good fight, as they say. The good news is, with a defense that's this stellar, you're going to be "in" every match with a chance at a result. The bad news is, with a struggling offense, if you DO concede a goal, it'll be harder to fight back.
There's no right or wrong answer when it comes to offering up ideas to spark the offense. Personally though? If you're married to the 4-2-3-1 I'd REALLY like to see Sene on the left flank if he's healthy enough to start, move Nguyen to the middle where he can create and boss the game going forward, and then pick your poison out wide right with either Rowe, Ryan Guy, or Diego Fagundez.
I've said it before, and I'll say it again: this team HAS THE PIECES to be competitive, and can certainly surprise a few teams along the way. When you build a team from the back and shore up a solid defensive back line, it serves as a great foundation. I really feel like it'll be a domino effect when their next goal goes in, and the weight will be lifted.
However, don't sacrifice what you've worked hard to build so far. Keep that back line the way it is, and continue to use the supporting central midfield. The goals will come, it's just about time we figure out from where.