Philadelphia Union, D.C. United, New York Red Bulls. Those are three other Eastern Conference teams with the same record as the New England Revolution. That's what I've been telling myself all day today--that and "it's only March". I will admit, it's been making me feel better. And so now here I am to share some sunshine with you all.
This team was never going to take 3 points this weekend. You can't tell me that you expected them, too. The biggest disappointment, for me, has got to be the red card. Not even the card itself, really, because after watching again I really believe that it could have been a red or a yellow. It was a 50-50 shot. But the red card ruined the formation that I've been dying to see since preseason, the 4-2-3-1.
As we've discussed in the past here on The Bent Musket (mostly in conversations via the comments section), the 4-2-3-1 makes a lot of sense for this team right now. I really would have liked to see 90 minutes of it, just so we could see how it worked for us. But after McCarthy's red card, the formation--and indeed the entire gameplan--was thrown off. I hope that Jay Heaps doesn't abandon it too soon.So, without further delay, let's get into it, shall we? I've got plenty to get off my chest.
To begin, our backline is an absolute mess. In my player ratings I had said that Kevin Alston played better defensively in this one. I don't really know where I got that from exactly. Watching the game again, I'm afraid I have to rescind that remark. If you get a chance to see a replay of the game, skip to Espinoza's shot in the 19th minute. Where was Kevin Alston there? Seriously, where was he? Also, if you were wondering where Kelyn Rowe was all night, he was basically playing RB. Rowe isn't supposed to be playing RB, guys.
My issues with the backline aren't exclusive to Alston though. His LB counterpart Chris Tierney, a player I have always liked, had his fair share of mistakes and general sloppiness. For example, Tierney only completed 54% of his passes Saturday night. 54%. He had some shining moments, sure, but all too often he was miss-timing his runs and overlaps, causing a lot of trouble on the left wing for Lee Nguyen and himself. The times when Nguyen was able to find room on the left sideline seemed to me to be the times he played best.
Speaking of Nguyen, how lucky are we to have been able to grab him off waivers, huh? Nguyen showed fans more of what they got a little taste of in San Jose, and it was awesome. He may get muscled off the ball a bit more than one would like, but he is fantastic at winning possession back and, perhaps more importantly, keeping it. Barring an injury (KNOCK ON WOOD!), I can't see how Heaps could ever keep Nguyen out of the Starting XI moving forward.
Back to defense for a second: we have GOT to get on the same page. This team could just simply not clear a ball out of the box for the life of them. Maybe that was due to Soares clearly not being at 100% (which is pretty plain to see at 32', for example, when he's one-on-one with C.J. Sapong) or maybe it was something else, but we let way too many balls loiter in the box in this game, and that's almost always going to cause panic, and of course goals.
Shalrie Joseph showed just why he is our captain when he assumed the CB role after the red card. When the team was in trouble and needed someone to step up, Joseph was there and ready to give it his all. As a result, he actually played pretty well in the position, aside from the afore-mentioned ball-clearing foibles. His height was key to a lot of very good defensive plays. And that height is what we're going to need against Portland to combat their crosses. I can't say at present that I have much confidence in Tierney or Alston stopping their wingers from getting to that point. Obviously I don't know if heaps will plan on plugging Shalrie into the backline again this weekend, but with the defense in shambles, it might be our best option. Florian Lechner cannot get here soon enough.
Our midfield looked good, all things considered. Clyde Simms was obviously the standout, making two consecutive games where he put in a great game and led by example. Someone who could maybe use a lesson in leading by example is Benny Feilhaber. I love Benny, but seeing him shouting at refs is just hard to watch sometimes, especially when cards are already being shown to the Revs. My fear is that one of these days he will really exacerbate a situation and thus make it go from bad to worse. I love his energy and passion, but I can't help but feel that he needs to work on keeping his composure. It can't just be me, right?
I had high hopes for Saer Sene, but it was clear that he was not at full strength--or full anything for that matter. He made some good moves with the ball at his feet, but was also out-smarted a few times and made some poor passes as well. He might be best when paired with another forward. I just hope that Nick Downing can get his knee back to 100%.
Final thought: Ryan Guy was a great sub to bring on. He demonstrated a lot of leadership and intelligence in the second half. In my opinion, I get the feeling that Heaps trusts Guy a lot and I'm willing to bet we see him in the Starting XI not too far down the line. I personally think he deserves it. More on that later in the week.
As Clyde Simms' said in his post-match interview for revolutionsoccer.net, the best thing for us to do (both team and fans, I believe) is to leave this game in Kansas City and move forward. It's only March... it's only March... it's only March....