When it comes time to summarize this 2012 season, it may take me awhile to figure out what kind of tone it will be written in, because nights like Saturday will continue to drive me mad when it comes to the New England Revolution.
With five players out, Benny Feilhaber missing due to suspension, and up against a red-hot club fighting for playoff seeding, the Revs pitched a shutout and came up with an incredibly solid performance, as well as their second home win over Chicago in 2012.
So what's the big secret? To be quite honest, I don't think the formula for wining soccer is terribly complex: solid at the back with good communication, continue to keep your shape and stay disciplined, be dynamic in your attack, and finish the chances you create for yourself. On Saturday night, the Revs did more than one of those things well, and the result showed.
QUESTIONABLE: A.J. Soares (R knee sprain), Chris Tierney (L knee sprain, L hamstring strain), Juan Toja (L knee swelling)
OUT: Flo Lechner (R MCL sprain), Stephen McCarthy (concussive like symptoms), Lee Nguyen (R shoulder surgery), Tyler Polak (R foot sprain), Saer Sene (L ACL surgery)
Sene and Nguyen were no surprise, as well as McCarthy considering how serious the league takes concussions (and the Revs in particular). Lechner is battling a sprained knee, and the youngster Polak was out as well. Add in Feilhaber serving a one match ban, and you've got some work ahead of you figuring out a lineup and game plan.
While all three players that were listed as questionable ended up playing, I'm sure it weighed heavy on the mind ofJay Heaps as to who was going to take the pitch, and only Soares got the nod to start.
JAY HEAPS LINEUP vs CHICAGO: Shuttleworth - Alston, Soares, Barnes, Guy - Fagundez, Simms (c), Gavin, Rowe - Imbongo, Bengtson
First and foremost, BLAIR GAVIN! I'd often joked that he wasn't real considering how much he hadn't played since coming over from Chivas USA in the Shalrie Joseph trade. I was really looking forward to finally seeing him in action.
Ryan Guy got the start at right back with the back line being so depleted, but given Guy's familiarity with the position (he's seen time there in MLS and Reserve matches) it wasn't a stretch to see him back there.
Most interestingly, was the inclusion of Diego Fagundez, but in the midfield. At first, I was a little perplexed, but then saw what Heaps may have been thinking: when it comes to attack-minded players that like to dribble at defenders and make things happen, Diego is right up there among the best on the team. So, on a night with few options, I'm glad to see Heaps give the young Fagundez a run-out at that position.
COACHES CHALKBOARD AND STYLE OF PLAY
The first thing that stuck out was the aforementioned placing of Fagundez in the midfield, which gave the Revs a quick, creative presence on the left flank. Also, given how little we'd seen of him, it was hard to foresee just how good Blair Gavin was going to be going forward. His presence on the midfield was rather good, and the energy he brought to the lineup was much-needed.
Defensively I really have to give monster kudos to both Jay Heaps and Kevin Alston. Props to Heaps for having the guts to ask a veteran to play a new position, and props to Alston for not only accepting the move, but in just about everyone's eyes, playing BETTER in his new position. This change gave the Revs an incredibly solid left side of the field, and also helped out Kelyn Rowe on the right side with his defensive responsibilities by pairing him with the speedy Ryan Guy.
As far as the strikers go, it's pretty clear at this point that Dimitry Imbongo has wonderful physical tools, but the young striker truly lacks the awareness to play at this level right now. While the high-pressure, all out energy attack may reap rewards occasionally, the fact that he's not in the right spot often times hurts the team going forward.
Jerry Bengtson is another story altogether. The talismanic Honduran just looks absolutely GASSED. He's played in MLS, the Olympics, and CONCACAF Qualifying, and that's just since July. He's put a ton of frequent flyer miles on his legs as well as minutes on the pitch. Revs fans are looking for a reason why Jerry hasn't produced the same output with New England as he has with Honduras, and I think the answer is two-fold: Bengtson is exhausted, and his familiarity and chemistry with his Honduran teammates carries him through his National Team matches.
A full offseason of rest and training with New England is going to do absolute wonders for several players on the roster, and I think Jerry Bengtson's name is at the very top of that list.
SUBSTITUTIONS AND COACHES DECISIONS
Two subs on the night, both with immediate impact:
Juan Toja for Blair Gavin 61'
Chris Tierney for Dimitry Imbongo 64'
Good sub by Jay Heaps getting Toja into the match, as I really didn't want him to push Gavin too far too fast. Gavin put on a really nice display, and I didn't want it to be marred by him tweaking an injury due to a little fatigue. I was impressed with Toja in the center as well. He showed good vision, and nice creativity going forward. Something to keep in mind as we head into 2013.
It was nice to see Chris Tierney out on the left flank again in the midfield (Fagundez moved up top when Imbongo went out) and the vet showed his prowess with several charging runs into the box and some good service with the left foot.
Nice way to end the home slate in 2012, and it only gives the Revs faithful more hope for the future. Young players like Fagundez, Gavin, and Shuttleworth all showed they have something to give in 2013, and that only can be seen as a good thing as it will push some of the older veterans to stay fresh and on top of their game.
With one match remaining, it's time to see some of the lesser known faces on the field in Montreal. I'd love to seeAlec Purdie, Mike Roach, and some more of Blair Gavin when the Revs end their season on Saturday. Would love to see Jay "reward" the reserves guys with some minutes in the season finale, and also see what they've got for the club as they head into the offseason.
With yet another incredibly high draft pick headed their way (as well as two selections in the second round), the Revs are in good position to continue to build a young, exciting club. The offseason may always seem like a long process with only a few big stories, but with the Revs still struggling to find the answers to becoming a playoff team, no one in the organization can take a day off, which will always make for an interesting offseason.