Just when you think you can write them off, the New England Revolution pull off what was by most accounts the near-impossible--a huge upset against the Houston Dynamo at BBVA Compass Stadium, and one that’s surely to propel them up the MLS Power Rankings this week (or at least it better!). The star of the show has got to be Diego Fagundez, who is staring a breakout season straight in the face, and who scored his team-leading third goal of the season.
Admittedly, Jay Heaps’ roster changes--inserting Clyde Simms, Darrius Barnes, and Juan Toja into the lineup in place of the usual Kalifa Cisse, Chris Tierney, and Kelyn Rowe--had me scratching my head and shaking in my boots, but in hindsight I see just what the manager was going for. Darrius Barnes certainly has more pace than Tierney, and that is most likely exactly the reason that Heaps opted to place him in the starting XI to combat the speedy wing-play that Houston boasts with the likes of Andrew Driver, Giles Barnes, Kofi Sarkodie, and others. Simms, too, has pace and just that extra bit of mobility that allows him to cover more ground when Houston is on the counter. As for Toja, his inclusion was likely a direct result of Kelyn Rowe’s recent injury that kept him home in Foxborough.
Tactically, I believe that Heaps is on the right track. Sticking to his new 4-1-4-1 lineup both at home and on the road shows (I hope) that he’s learned the importance of keeping with a system that has proven to work. Last season, we saw him switch his formation quite a bit, but it looks like we’ve got the hang of it now. Even when the Revs were down a man, the shape remained largely the same. And putting Tierney on as a substitute reinforces Heaps’ newfound love of stretching the field wide. And, hey, who knew he could be so instrumental on a counterattack!
It was an ugly game, for sure, but the 2013 Revolution have one important new characteristic: they know how to win ugly. Last season the Revs were literally pushed around game-in and game-out, but this year the Revs are pushing back. Case in point: Dimitry Imbongo. Sure, he was red-carded out of the match in the first half. But his brute hold-up play and general bullying in the box resulted in Houston losing both their starting center-backs (one to an unfortunate injury, Jermaine Tayor, and the other of course to a deserved red-card, Bobby Boswell, after a dirty headbutt in the box). His strength and willingness to push back (or push first, at times, let’s be honest) shows Heaps’ pre-season emphasis on physicality on full display.
But as I said before, Diego Fagundez was the star of the show, and did everything right in this match. His craftiness in space is a true revelation. Out wide, Fagundez is able to find pockets of space and straight-up exploit them. In fact, before his 51st minute goal, he ran a full 25 yard circle around the corner of the penalty area before piercing straight in uncovered and finding the back of the net. Here, watch the build-up for yourself and keep your eyes on Diego:
See? But let’s also not lose the the fact that this New England defense, along with goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth, chalked up yet another clean sheet. Stephen McCarthy and Jose Goncalves were on their A-game yet again, and the flanks were covered well by Barnes and rookie Andrew Farrell (even if Farrell squandered his share of chances in the attacking third). Shuttleworth, perhaps more than anyone else, deserves a real round of applause. The Revolution netminder, now in his 5th season with the team, has finally hit his stride and has seized his opportunity well. The job is surely his to lose. You just might say he’s been Shuttle-worth the wait (get it!?).
So, that’s that. That happened. A win in Houston. I only wish it could have been the game that snapped the streak. But, of course, I’ll take the game that started a losing streak for the Dynamo. And, yeah, I’ll take those glorious three points. Now the Revs really need to get back to winning ways at home. And Saturday’s game against Toronto FC couldn’t be a more prime opportunity to do just that. Come on you Revs.