Sorry I'm late, Sunday was a little hectic.
I hope none of you are satisfied with Saturday's performance. One point is better than none, certainly, but an expansion team on a long road trip that has conceded five goals in their last two league matches should be easy pickings for a club looking to be a playoff contender. Instead, the Revolution produced a lackluster performance and had to settle for a draw.
The key was, once again, sloppy passing in midfield and a chronic inability to maintain meaningful possession. During his customary first-half interview, coach Nicol was quick to point out that the passing was woeful and they were having difficulty stringing together two or even three passes at a time.
That's all well and good that he recognizes that and apparently tries to run a system that stresses possession, but at what point in time do things change? If the idea is to pass the ball and keep the ball, why is it that the Revs have maybe three players on the pitch at any given time who know how to pick out an intelligent pass or show himself as a convenient possession outlet? Shouldn't New England be signing players that help build toward that ideal?
In fairness, missing Marko Perovic does no favors for the attack, and the imminent return to fitness of Ousmane Dabo should hopefully alleviate some of the pressure on Shalrie Joseph. It just gets very old when an arguably weaker team arrives at the Razor and bosses play. Even weaker teams are supposed to be able to hold their own at home and grab even at least a slight majority of possession. The Revs aren't even built to be a phenomenal counter-attacking team; most of the forwards aren't quick enough to exploit a pushed-up defensive line and even if they do, they tend to give up the ball or make the wrong decisions in the attacking third anyway.
Read on, I promise there will be positives after the jump.
The primary anti-possession culprit on Saturday was Pat Phelan. As usual, he flew around the midfield putting in timely and ferocious tackles and imposing his general will on proceedings. That said, there are two particular occasions that illustrated his shortcomings and how they contributed to New England's terrible possession.
First, there was an occasion where a ball was played back to him from the forward line. It may have been a clearance from the Portland defense - I honestly don't remember. Phelan was under a little pressure, but there were passing options around him that would allow the Revs to recycle possession and start building another attack. Instead of taking the ball down and quickly laying it off, Phelan hauled off and belted a wild volleyed clearance with Sainey Nyassi in acres of space to his left. The ensuing header was won by Portland.
The second occasion was later in the match, and actually didn't result in a giveaway. Phelan received the ball from Shalrie Joseph deep in midfield. Joseph had been pushed up into the attacking third and played it back to Pat to generate space for a return ball. Phelan took two or three touches, looked to Joseph, and instead of playing it to him turned and played it back to the defense. There were Timbers players in Shalrie's general area but he had more than enough space to do something with the ball, as evidenced when Phelan felt it necessary to raise his hand in apology to the captain.
On a positive note, rookie Stephen McCarthy broke his MLS scoring duck. I must confess to not expecting to even see him make a start at this point but for him to start in three matches and score is a major accomplishment and very encouraging for the squad going forward. It was logical to assume that Dabo's return would push McCarthy out of the midfield; now, if the Revs stick to the 4-5-1 we might see Phelan lose his spot instead.
A.J. Soares looked assured again at the back, and his colleague of the day Ryan Cochrane was imperious in the air. The Timbers had a number of decent chances apart from their goal, but overall the positioning and tackling by the Revs' center-backs was positive. Kevin Alston showed signs of rust but also sparks of ingenuity, while Didier Domi was quality even as he seemed a little off the pace (possibly due to the swelling problem in his right knee that has been dogging him for weeks).
Wednesday night the Revs face the Whitecaps, another expansion team that is showing a lot more bite and having much more success than the Timbers. Empire Field was witness to one of the most thrilling comebacks in MLS history on Saturday, and they may be riding some powerful momentum going into the clash. Still, New England needs to go in there expecting to head home with three points - next weekend's home encounter with Real Salt Lake promises to be punishing and the Revolution's chances of taking points from that, even at home, are probably slim.
The race for playoff contention in the East starts now; in a league where the West is so dominant and likely to grab the majority of the wild card spots, there are no games the Revs can afford to lose.