It seems to me that it's becoming pretty evident that the 4-1 drubbing in New York was just a blip on the radar for this Revs team, as they went out West and earned a hard fought 0-0 draw in Portland. It certainly is worth mentioning it came not only amidst one of the toughest atmospheres in Major League Soccer, but with a back line ravaged by injury, and also, in Chris Tierney's case, suspension.
It was great to read all of the tweets and thoughts from MLS fans and experts alike around the match talking about how the Revs "parked the bus" and "held on" for the result, and while I agree that towards the end, it felt like the Revs were just hanging on for dear life, they certainly did NOT bunker in on Thursday Night, and they surely didn't park the bus.
How can I back up that argument? Well, there's certainly the statistical evidence from the scoresheet, and while the possession stat looks dreadful, the Revolution did manage 12 attempts on goal, putting four on target, as well as earning 7 corner kicks. If not for Donovan Ricketts' save on Saer Sene, the Revs, dare I say it, could have stolen a win in the late minutes as well.
If you watched the match, you certainly know that the Revs did more than their share of defending, and that there were plenty of "heart-in-throat" moments, but that doesn't mean they bunkered. Exhibit B? Jay Heaps' largely unchanged lineup from Saturday Night's victory over Philadelphia.
The only changes you saw were forced through injury or suspension at the back, where you saw Bilal Duckett recalled from Rochester and inserted at right back for the injured Andrew Farrell, and Darrius Barnes at left back for the suspended Chris Tierney. After that, it was more of the same from Heaps, and I loved that. He could have gone back to a 4-2-3-1 and bunkered and played that ugly style they've played, but instead, he stuck with what got him the result in Foxboro, and showed confidence in his team.
STYLE OF PLAY
With Duckett returning for the first time in 2013, and Barnes slotting in at left back, I certainly felt like the back line was a little more overly committed to defending on the night. There weren't a ton of runs forward into attack by the outside backs, and given the opposition, I was more than fine with that approach.
Portland are incredibly talented, quick, and counter just as good as anyone in the league, and by staying committed and disciplined, the Revs were able to stymie and stifle a very good team on their own field. While Duckett and Barnes did seem to struggle a little getting acclimated to full-speed, first team play, the center backs were nothing short of dominant in the air, and it bears mentioning that Stephen McCarthy and Jose Gonçalves were massive for the club on the night.
Offensively, the Curious Case of Jerry Bengtson continues. He does do the little things well, like holding up the ball when necessary, and he certainly excels at throwing his lanky frame around and making defenders uncomfortable. However, when it comes to honest-to-goodness link-up play with this talented midfield, and just an honest overall good feeling, it's just not clicking for Bengtson right now. At all.
It's incredible to see how much more dangerous the Revs looked when Sene came on, and this is coming off major knee surgery! The shot that was well saved by Ricketts, the great pass from Imbongo that Sene should have done better with, and even a few long-range efforts, made Sene look like he was the DP striker, and not Bengtson. While I sill think Bengtson isn't in the best situation for him to succeed, it's still got to be better than it has been. Even the body language bothers me a little. So, perhaps, it's time for a slump buster.
The midfield once again looked solid, and I was truly impressed at how the Revs attacked the Timbers through the middle of the midfield, almost like they conceded the fact that Portland were just simply better than they were on the outside. That's also another reason why casual observers probably thought the Revs bunkered, because they really did try to slow the game down in stretches, and played through the middle, trying to not only break Portland down, but to limit the counter opportunities on the break. Needless to say, with a goose egg on the scoreboard, the Revs stayed disciplined, continued to play smart soccer, and got the result.
SCOTT CALDWELL for KALIFA CISSE 45'
SAER SENE for DIEGO FAGUNDEZ 67'
DIMITRY IMBONGO for JERRY BENGTSON 87'
Really liked the Caldwell sub once Cisse needed to come off for physical reasons, and it really changed the dynamic of the Revs going forward, as Caldwell is a little less physical, but a little more offensively gifted. Good vision, and a nice passer, Caldwell definitely helped open up a few lanes.
Sene completely changed the Revs' attack from the moment he stepped on the field, and while I felt that Diego played very well once again, the switch needed to be made at the time.
I mentioned that Bengtson seemed out of sorts, and I agreed with this sub. Imbongo was essentially being given a handful of moments to essentially try to disrupt the Timbers in any way possible, but what we didn't expect was how he was going to fire off a few good passes as well. More of that, please.
Take the point, get on the plane, and run. Given everything the team had to overcome, be it travel, lack of depth, or even atmosphere, this is a great result. The Revs have bounced back from their poor result in New York with two clean sheets, and four points.
This defense has now proven, over two months, that it's a force in this league and will allow the Revs to stay competitive with any team in the league, and will keep them alive in this season long into the summer months. If this run of defensive form continues, the Revs will have a chance to fight for a playoff spot at a much later date than they've been used to in the past. If the form continues AND they figure out the offensive woes? We're not just talking about a bottom-table club anymore.
Offensively, there is no point in benching Jerry Bengtson, which is a sentiment I've read all week. He's still the best striker you have on the roster that's healthy, and until Saer Sene comes back to 100%, it will be more of the same from this team and how they approach their attack with Jerry. The team DID look better with Sene and Bengtson on the same field, and with Lee Nguyen and Kelyn Rowe beginning to click in the center of the midfield, things could take a dramatic turn for the better on the offensive end relatively soon.
That being said, the Revs' next international signing, which is presumed will be a striker, is IMPERATIVE to this team's success. There's just no depth there right now, and with the current crop not producing just yet, the Revs need an out-and-out goalscorer if they have real aspirations of challenging for a playoff spot. I hope the search is tedious, serious, and results in a great signing, because this team is in desperate need of a game-changer, and I don't think it's on the roster currently. If only they had a speedy-fast Gambian winger under contract with game-changing pace to bring a little excitement and fear to the offense.
All kidding aside, this team isn't far off. That's not the Kool-Aid talking, nor is it seen through rose-colored glasses. It's a sentiment shared by several national pundits as well, so at the moment, the Revs need to stay the course, get healthy, and continue to fight on through the summer.