New England continued their winning ways on Saturday night with a win over Los Angleles, and while it's always the players on the field receiving most of the accolades, it's important to remember the man at the top as well. Not only did the Revs snap a nearly three-year winless streak on the west coast, but Revolution head coach Jay Heaps had his squad playing some of the most attractive soccer this fan base has seen since the glory days.
Everything from the attitude, the style of play, and even the on-field chatter had Heaps' fingerprints all over it. Quick, incisive passing, great diagonal runs, and an overwhelming dedication to the attack all worked in perfect harmony on the night, giving New England three more points, and evening their record at 2-2-0.
In this week's edition of the Captain, we're going to at least attempt to see if there were any holes in the gameplan set forth by Heaps and his staff, but with such a monumental result, I've got a feeling it's going to be a short article this week for sure!
INJURY REPORT 3/30 -PROBABLE: Kevin Alston (nasal fracture) DOUBTFUL: John Lozano (R hip flexor strain) OUT: Zak Boggs (R ankle sprain), Benny Feilhaber (L peroneal strain), Sainey Nyassi (DL - R hamstring strain)
Easily the biggest concern was New England going without their star midfielder in Benny Feilhaber, but with several players becoming available, the loss of Lozano wasn't going to sting quite as much. Jay Heaps hasn't been too lucky thus far in 2012 with missing players either due to injury or suspension, but for the first time this season it seemed like he had an opportunity to at least make a few choices.
COUCH CAPTAIN'S LINEUP: (4-4-2) - Matt Reis, Kevin Alston, Stephen McCarthy, AJ Soares, Chris Tierney; Ryan Guy, Shalrie Joseph, Clyde Simms, Kelyn Rowe; Saer Sene, Lee Nguyen
A fairly straightforward lineup with the midfield aligned in that ever-so-popular diamond shape with Clyde Simms allowing Shalrie to go forward and lighten his defensive responsibilities. Shalrie is such a better player when he feels like he doesn't have to do it all on the field, which allows him to dictate the pace and flow of the game, which is when he's at his best.
McCarthy continues to be John Lozano's understudy, and Tierney has earned the right to that left back spot on the backline while Heaps figures out what Florian Lechner's role is going to be.
I wanted to start Nguyen and Sene up top together, as both players had good speed, dynamic playmaking abilities, and a nose for goals. Also, I still refuse to start the "Striker Who Shall Not Be Named".
JAY HEAPS' LINEUP: (4-4-2) - Reis; Tierney, Soares, McCarthy, Alston; Nguyen, Joseph, Simms, Rowe; Guy, Sene
Same players, only Coach Heaps sent Ryan Guy up top to partner with Saer Sene, and had Lee Nguyen on the left flank. As we saw this begin to take shape early in the match, it was clear that Heaps knew he could abuse this Galaxy team on the flanks, which is something we will get into later.
The 4-4-2, while slightly "vanilla" at times, fits this particular team at the moment. It seems to be working (obviously, when you're winning, it all looks good) and with the position battles beginning to heat up with players arriving and getting healthy, I cannot wait to see what this team looks like a month or two from now.
COACHES' CHALKBOARD AND STYLE OF PLAY
Attack. Attack. Attack. So free flowing, amazing runs of the ball, and quick touch passing. It was great to see the style of play and philosophy of Jay Heaps taking shape right in front of our eyes. It seemed like without Donovan on the field, and with CM on the wings for the Galaxy, Heaps KNEW he could take advantage of the weakened flanks. This was obvious throughout the first half, as Nguyen and Rowe constantly found themselves in tons of space in perfect positions to cross.
What was also great to see was the wing backs getting involved. Both Alston and Tierney were getting into the act on Saturday night, and the two actually connected on the team's second goal, when Alston played a one-two with Joseph and crossed through the box to a streaking Tierney. Without the real threat of getting caught on the counter due to Los Angeles' lack of speed and offense on the wings, the Revs wing backs were allowed to roam free and create, which was a really great thing to see.
Defensively, nothing seemed to change. Clyde Simms continued to be the warrior he has been all season long, giving New England loads of possession at times, and taking the pressure off of Shalrie. This affects the defensive back four as well, as it allowed more attacking movement, and also took some pressure off of the CB's in Soares and McCarthy. While they did get caught out a few times due to the Galaxy's talented strikers (Keane and Buddle have played in World Cups, say what you'd like, but there aren't many people that can say that) the back four stayed solid.
SUBSTITUTIONS AND COACHES' DECISIONS
Substitutions, as well as tactical decisions are a whole lot easier and less controversial when you're winning handily. Jay Heaps did use all three subs on the night, but aside from the Alston sub due to injury, the decisions weren't met with too much pressure.
Florian Lechner for Kevin Alston (HT)
Fernando Cardenas for Saer Sene 70'
Alec Purdie for Stephen McCarthy 85'
Lechner came on for Kevin Alston as a precautionary measure at the half due to a knock Alston took to his (deep breath here) hamstring. Heaps clearly knows the history with Alston and his incredibly sensitive hamstring injuries, so with a replacement readily available, it was an easy decision, and a very good one to not only give Lechner minutes, but rest Alston as well.
Cardenas came on in the exact type of situation I like him in: tired defense playing from behind, slippery pitch in the rain, and a wide open match with plenty of chances. Up until his goal, Sene looked gassed anyway, clearly getting used to match speed and gaining his fitness, so inserting Cardenas here to continue to apply pressure was brilliant.
Alec Purdie came on for Stephen McCarthy at the 85th minute, as the tall CB looked a bit tired, especially on the goal by Keane, so Shalrie slid back to CB to cover, and we continued to see where exactly Purdie fits on this team, which, we still have no idea.
Happiness. Can't really describe it other than that. The team is playing such an attractive style, the players seem to really like each other and enjoy playing with each other. It's so incredibly refreshing to see Heaps on the sidelines pacing, barking instructions as well as praise. Hearing things like "FINSIH IT!!" as their well played first half winded down, is so great to see as a fan because you can just really tell how much he cares.
What I'm most looking forward to as this result begins to crawl into the back of my mind, is what this squad is going to look like in the near future. Players are arriving, there are more pieces of the puzzle becoming available, but with so many players performing admirably in the absences of veteran players, it's going to be incredibly interesting to see how Jay Heaps is going to handle it all.
One thing is for sure: New England needs to continue to progress with their philosophy and style of play, because there's no doubt in my mind this team is capable of producing more results like the one we saw Saturday night.