The New England Revolution earned a road point in Los Angeles on Saturday night that, at first glance, would seem favorable. They don't play well on the West Coast, so going away from home and getting a draw is usually good. This match, however, was against comedy club Chivas USA, and the performance from New England was not anywhere near up to snuff.
The Revs opened the match as the stronger team, but from the get-go their passing and chemistry seemed off. Missing the red-hot Juan Agudelo up top, the Revs were trying to make do with Jerry Bengtson at striker, and the combinations that have made the boys from Foxboro so dangerous in the last two months just weren't happening.
Chivas elected not to give their visitors time to grow into the game. After Stephen McCarthy nodded a header wide from a corner while unmarked, the Goats capitalized on shoddy defense at the other end. The Revs failed to clear a ball several times, and eventually some hold-up work from Tristan Bowen allowed the ball to somehow reach Laurent Courtois at the edge of the box. He took a left-footed shot that deflected and dropped right into the near post top corner past a diving Shuttleworth to give the home side the lead.
This was exactly what the Revs didn't need. Chivas USA could now sit back and let the game come to them, letting the Revs over-extend themselves while taking a chance on a second goal off the counter. Lee Nguyen nearly replied almost immediately when a long-range free kick in the 20th minute knuckled and troubled Dan Kennedy, but it deflected off the crossbar.
The Revs had most of the chances in the remaining 25 minutes of the half, but most of them weren't high-quality. Chivas' defense packed it in, and the Revs played right into their hands by cutting into the middle and creating unnecessary traffic on a pitch that begs teams to spread out defenses and use the wings. The shots that the Revs managed to produce were either blocked or easily collected by Kennedy, who habitually appeared to be two or three steps ahead of the Revs' attacking players.
The second half saw much of the same issues. Jerry Bengtson, though, woke up, if only for a few minutes. In the 48th minute a Chris Tierney low cross was just batted away by Kennedy with Bengtson unmarked and ready to put it away at the back post. Then, in the 59th, Nguyen played Jerry into the box on the floor, where he got to the ball before Kennedy. Bengtson showed no hesitation, firing off a low shot that very nearly went through Kennedy's legs, but the Chivas keeper saved well.
Chivas retreated further and further into a defensive shell as the half went on. Often they put all eleven men behind the ball and dared the Revs to attack them. New England, for their part, could not figure out the Goats' defense, and even when they did, Dan Kennedy was always in perfect position to stymie them. Even a switch to a 3-5-2 with the inclusion of Juan Toja for Ryan Guy couldn't seem to find the breakthrough.
It finally came, though, from an unlikely source. Substitute Chad Barrett crashed the far post on a Diego Fagundez cross from the right side, and somehow, some way, he bundled the ball home to get the equalizer in the 88th minute. The ball appeared to deflect off of his leg and the leg of the defender marking him several times before rolling into the far corner, with Kennedy apparently confused and trying feebly to pull off a kick save.
New England dominated Chivas statistically. They held 60.4% of the possession, completed 79% of their 459 total passes (nearly 180 more than Chivas, by the way), and fired off 17 shots, 8 of which ended up on target. The story that tells, however, is not one of true superiority, but one that illustrates Chivas' game plan. They ceded everything to the Revs in two-thirds of the field, but once New England reached Chivas' defensive third, they formed a brick wall, either rooting out all chances or running the Revs' attackers into very poor positions.
In a lot of ways, it was similar to the game plan employed by D.C. a few weeks ago in the 0-0 league draw at Gillette, but isolated to their own third. They employed intense ball pressure, and rather than work to break the pressure and move around it, the Revs folded and allowed themselves to be cornered into bad positions, where Chivas could regain possession or limit the Revs to an unproductive chance.
If this is the beginning of a show of vulnerability on the part of the Revolution, it won't take long for the rest of the league to get wise to it. If that happens, it could be a very long season for New England. They'll need to get their act together and straighten a few things out regardless, and that while dealing with the absence of Juan Agudelo.
The Revolution are next in action on Saturday against San Jose at Gillette Stadium.