In our second installment of the midseason review, today I will regale you with the New England Revolution First-Half Grades! I'm not going to go through the entire roster and grade every player's performance; rather, I will grade goalkeeping, defense, midfield and attack, as well as coaching and front office for the 2011 season. Understandably, most of these grades are going to be fairly unforgiving, given the Revs' results over the last few months.
In other news, I finally figured out ticket service integration through TiqIQ and SB Nation today. You may use the "Tickets" tab below the top banner of the page or click this link for tickets in all zones and price ranges for matches this season, including tomorrow's Manchester United friendly (availability for that match will, obviously, be limited).
Matt Reis has been legendary in goal this season. He's had his share of mistakes and also played at least one poor match (the recent loss to Seattle, for instance), but more often than not he's been the sole factor in New England staying in games. Reis is also second in the league in saves right now, behind only Stefan Frei, who plays behind possibly the worst defense in the history of soccer and humanity. That said, the Revolution's defense might be seen as far worse if the 36-year old wasn't standing on his head between the sticks. Despite questions about his distribution from goal kicks, Reis and the goalkeeping squad have to be given an admirable B+ average.
This might be the most generous grade I'll give in this entire evaluation. I'm very encouraged by the rapid development of A.J. Soares, who was drafted and immediately slotted into a starting role in the center of defense. Ryan Cochrane has had shaky moments lately but otherwise has been largely effective, and Franco Coria has shown good things in the time he's seen. Kevin Alston and Darrius Barnes have also offered solid performances when defending, and Didier Domi often shows that he's a class apart when he actually sees the pitch.
That said, no one is really doing enough. Having 24 goals allowed and a -8 goal differential isn't the worst in the league by any means, but it's still not nearly good enough. The midfield can be blamed partially for bad giveaways that leave the defenders exposed, but at the end of the day positioning sense and good marking/tackling just haven't been there for the Revs. Barnes has seen a lot of minutes as a left-back, but he's a serviceable stopgap in that position at best and a major liability at worst. Franco Coria shows moments of brilliance but is prone to lose focus at times, while Cochrane lately has been very up and down in his performances. Alston offers no finished product going forward, making him one-dimensional and completely wasting the speed he has, while Domi has been injured so often his impact is nearly irrelevant. With Soares making expected rookie mistakes as well, this defensive unit has looked increasingly porous and vulnerable and certainly hasn't performed up to the level to which they are capable of playing.
One would think that an MLS midfield anchored by Shalrie Joseph and Benny Feilhaber would be one of the better the league has seen in its 16 year existence. One would be incorrect. The talent is there, but even in a three-man midfield with Pat Phelan, Stephen McCarthy or the oft-injured Ousmane Dabo complimenting those two, the Revolution midfield has time and time again shown that it can't be counted on to intelligently maintain possession or set up the forwards and wingers to create chances.
Part of the problem has been health. Ousmane Dabo has been healthy for maybe five minutes all year, taking a way an experienced holding presence. With him gone and Feilhaber recently out with an ankle injury, the midfield started to look a lot like it did last year, with Shalrie Joseph trying as hard as he can to play about three different roles at once and failing - not because he's incompetent, but because such a task is impossible. Pat Phelan and rookie Stephen McCarthy have shown good moments, but neither of them have a good enough touch on the ball to be effective passers and both are atrocious when it comes to shedding markers and showing themselves as a passing outlet. Nothing peeves me more than when I see the defense (or Shalrie) in possession, being closed down, and the other midfielders are just standing around watching it happen instead of moving into space to receive an easy outlet pass.
Even that can't be considered the whole of the problem. Feilhaber, when healthy, has struggled to make a major impact on games. Despite setting up three goals so far this season, only one has come from an intelligent passing move in the run of play. His frustration both with the incompetence of MLS officiating and the poor technique and decision-making of his teammates is palpable, but he has yet to justify his enormous (for MLS) salary with game-changing performances. The outside midfielders have played reasonably well, although Zak Boggs continues to be a complete black hole of possession when he's on the field on the right. Chris Tierney is having his best professional season, and Sainey Nyassi may be experiencing a resurgence. The bright performances of those two are the only saving grace for what would otherwise be a total failing grade.
This should be obvious. You can't give the most impotent offense in the league a passing grade in attack. Shalrie, a holding midfielder, remains the Revs' leading goalscorer and most prolific offensive weapon, while the actual strikers on this team have combined for just five goals out of that 16, and that's including the goal scored by Ilija Stolica, who is no longer with the organization. Rajko Lekic was brought in to be the double-digit scorer that New England has lacked since Taylor Twellman's injury, but his return of three goals in 13 matches is hardly inspiring. The only other forward still on the roster who has scored this season is Zack Schilawski, and he just once.
Part of this could be down to poor tactics. It's become glaringly obvious that the 4-4-2 fits this team best, but Steve Nicol has insisted on trying to make a 4-3-3/4-5-1/4-4-1-1 hybrid formation work. This maroons Lekic up top in a role he's not suited to play, rendering the team toothless. It may be too late for the Dane at this point, anyway, as despite the fact that he's scored twice in the last few weeks his confidence is still probably shaken up, and confidence is everything for a goalscorer. At the end of the day, though, the forwards aren't finishing chances, and when that's what you're paid to do, there's no sympathy for failure.
It seems weird to be saying that a coach with over 100 MLS wins, four MLS Cup Finals appearances and eight-straight playoff season under his belt is flunking, but this season hasn't been a good one at all for the former Liverpool defender. Granted, his talent pool isn't exactly brimming with quality, but there's a general malaise about the club and the way the team plays that has to be attributed to those at the top. Everyone knows that coaching is a thankless job; when the team wins, the players are praised, but when they lose, the coach gets the blame.
My major bone to pick with Stevie is his apparent stubborn desire to stay away from the 4-4-2 this season. The few times it's been trotted out (usually at the end of matches as the Revs try desperately to find an equalizer or winner, and once or twice from first kick this season) New England has looked vigorous and dangerous. Contrast that with their performances in a 4-5-1, where they still struggle to keep possession and create almost zero scoring chances, and anyone with half a brain can see that the traditional formation and scheme works far better. Nicol hasn't shown that he can adjust his tactics on the fly, still hasn't solved the possession problem and is failing to get the best out of his best players; for that, he gets a D.
Front Office/Ownership: F-
I don't know where to start. We could begin with empty promises of a Designated Player before the season started, or perhaps the fact that the attendance average is still a paltry 12,675. Perhaps the best point would be to talk about how Gillette Stadium is a poorly-placed and built (from an acoustic standpoint) for anything smaller than a match with 50,000+ fans, or that none of the reinforcements signed by the current personnel regime have come good. Or maybe the brutal and unwarranted treatment of the most hardcore supporters is a top point, and we can throw in the unconditional release of last season's MVP - while he was out injured - as the icing on the cake.
To put it bluntly, the organization is performing very, very poorly. Most of their signings in the last three or four seasons have been next-to-useless, they're reverting to the old ways of miscommunication and opacity with supporters' groups, their apparent treatment of a fan-favorite and top-quality player was abominable, and through it all they continue to put a very sub-par product on the field and expect fans to just accept the rules and fall in line. The Revolution have gone from one of the beacons of success in MLS to an aging, crumbling reminder of what the league once was and a stern warning of what not to do in the modern American soccer landscape.
The organization's mistakes have even prompted fans to form the Fort Active Supporters' Trust, which is an apparent attempt to compel the Krafts to sell the Revolution to a fan-led and owned consortium. Whether or not they are totally serious and have a chance at success remains to be seen, but the mere fact that something like that is gaining momentum among a wide group of fans and not just a tiny, crazy sect should serve as a shocking warning to the higher-ups that things are going very wrong. Instead, it appears the club is content to continue with their heads in the sand, and for all of this, they're basically on par with that kid who failed gym class when all you had to do was show up with a change of clothes.
Revolution Overall Grade: D (1.277 GPA)
What do you think? What are your grades for this season? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below!