Saturday night in Foxboro, the New England Revolution played a great match. They owned 55.2% of the possession, completed more of their passes, had more shots and shots on target, committed fewer fouls, had more corner kicks and won more 50-50 battles than their opponents, the Seattle Sounders. In just about every possible statistical category, they were better, if not outright dominant.
Except, of course, on the scoreboard. And that's where it counts.
"Game should have been over at halftime," said Steve Nicol. "We could have been four-up at halftime. The two goals are on mistakes. What do you say? It's a travesty."
Dominance in the early going of matches is something that the Revs have done very well this season, but that hasn't always translated into leads, and it certainly hasn't worked for them much in the win column, either. Today, a bevy of good chances went begging in the first thirty minutes before Diego Fagundez finally had his breakthrough, but in truth that should have been the team's third or fourth goal of the night.
"We still had enough chances," Chris Tierney remarked. "I had a chance at the end that I couldn't finish. We had a couple half chances in the box that we probably could have done better with, a bunch of free kicks, balls in the box that we just didn't have that last little bit of quality that we needed to put it away."
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I'm inclined to agree with both assessments. The first half was a clinic in what the Revs could do if they were clicking on all cylinders and attacking with a bit of fearlessness in them. Looking back on the highlights and through my game notes, I would count six clear-cut chances New England should have put away before they finally got the goal, and only two of those were saved by Kasey Keller. If even one of those chances hits the back of the net, the match is completely different moving forward.
Is there a ready-made solution to this issue? Probably not. Fagundez looked real good out there, buzzing in attack and giving the Seattle defenders fits. However, despite being the only goalscorer in blue, he was also guilty of some considerable profligacy in front of goal tonight, including one chance where he was one-on-one with Keller and pushed a cheeky, outside-of-the-boot shot well wide. (Note: I don't fault him for trying it - too many Revs players this year seemed unwilling or unable to do the implausible and unexpected.)
On the topic of Diego, he received high praise from everyone, including the opposition. "[Diego] has a lot of movement, for his size he's strong on the ball - he's got to do something about that haircut - but other than that, I think he's got a bright future," quipped Keller after the match when asked about the only Revs player who as able to solve him on the evening.
I think the worst part about the whole night wasn't the poor finishing, though, it was the fact that New England put on a pretty good defensive performance overall, and they just let themselves down with two boneheaded mistakes. They were probably the only two mistakes made all match; still, when you play the second best team in the league, you can't afford any mistakes, especially if you aren't scoring much.
Ryan Cochrane whiffing on that clearance to set up the first goal is indicative of how much of this season has gone for him. He's gone from splendid to calamitous throughout the year - often in the same match - and despite putting in a pretty decent all-around shift, he'll still be seen as the goat on that play and one of those for the whole game.
A.J. Soares was mostly responsible for the second goal, and really didn't have his best match of his young career. Given the promise he's shown all year I can give him a pass and chalk things up to the rigors of a first professional season taking their toll, but I was still a little disappointed. His stats in possession and distribution are most troubling. 29 successful passes are necessarily trivialized by18 unsuccessful plays that resulted in some manner of dispossession, including four or five aimless punts toward the far corner flag. For A.J. to become a real top-level center back in this league, he needs to distinguish himself in distribution, because that is what most teams in the US lack out of the back. Plus, given his position on the field, these giveaways can often lead to deadly opponent counterattacks.
Going forward, the Revs players are gonna have to pull it together and try to just win out and give themselves and the fans something to look forward to next season. They know, it, too - most of us have known it for a month now - and being mathematically out of the playoffs this early for the second season in a row is obviously hurting them, especially the veterans. Furthermore, everybody knows that at this point, it's about proving to the staff that you deserve to keep your jobs.
"Jobs are on the line at this point, so it's a matter of pride [and] putting in a good performance," said Tierney. "Everyone's got to be proud to be here, to be in this league and prove that they belong. That's got to be in the back of our minds as we go forward here and try to get some wins for the fans and try to get some wins to prove that we can play in this league."