The first promise I made to myself when I decided to take my writing a little more seriously was to always remain objective at even the most difficult of times. While writing with emotion may always be the best course of action in my music career, it's not a good path to take in sports journalism.
New England had a tough go of it over the past four days, and with their unfathomable defeat in the Cup still fresh in our minds, now seems as good a time as any to remember that no matter how much we feel attached to the club, we've got to look at things from outside the box and objectively.
So, without further ado, in this week's Couch Captain we break down one of the most difficult stretches of the season that saw the Revs play two matches in a span of four days in two different competitions. The Revs gave up six goals, lost to a heated rival, and inexplicably failed to close out a division three team in extra time with a three goal lead.
What in the world could have been done differently? Was this avoidable? To be fair, the match against Harrisburg was NOT SHOWN LIVE, therefore, I will be dealing with straight facts on the match with no opinion. It's absolutely ludicrous to draw opinion from tweets and live blogs, so we'll do the best we can after the jump!
INJURY REPORT: QUESTIONABLE: John Lozano (R Adductor Tightness), Tim Murray (L Knee Inflammation), Jeremiah White (Concussion)
OUT: Zak Boggs (R Ankle Sprain), Flo Lechner (R 5th Metatarsal Fracture), Sainey Nyassi (R Hamstring Strain), Bjorn Runstrom (R Knee Inflammation), Clyde Simms (L Ankle Tendonitis)
Clyde Simms remains out, which is your biggest concern. You can see how it throws the shape of the team off balance when he isn't on the field. Replacing his production is priority one.
Lozano's injury is slightly worrying also, as it continues to deplete the depth at centerback, leaving only Darrius Barnes to fill in if needed (we've seen Shalrie do it also, but with Simms out, he's got more to worry about)
COUCH CAPTAIN'S LINEUP vs. DC UNITED (4-4-2): Reis; Alston, McCarthy, Soares, Tierney; Nguyen, SImms*, Joseph, Feilhaber; Sene, Moreno*
JAY HEAPS' LINEUP: Matt Reis, Chris Tierney, A.J. Soares, Stephen McCarthy, Kevin Alston, Lee Nguyen, Shalrie Joseph ©, Ryan Guy, Benny Feilhaber, Blake Brettchneider, Saer Sène
When I wrote the lineup on Monday of last week it came with the conditions that Simms and Moreno were fit enough to play, which it seems they weren't. I still wonder if Guy is the right choice with SImms out? Two options: play Shalrie at CDM and move Guy to the wing and slide Benny to CAM (if you want the same players) or you could get really creative, play Macca at CDM (former role), Shalrie at CAM and Darrius Barnes at CB. Quite frankly, I like the first option, as Feilhaber just seems more useful (and interested) at CAM.
One quick aside on the lineup: it may be time to shake thing up at the back. Another three goals, two on set pieces from this back line, and it doesn't seem to be getting better. Is Darrius Barnes really that far behind McCarthy? Is Tyler Polak really that raw and unprepared? I wish the U.S. Open Cup game was televised or streamed, because getting a look at those players would have helped Revs Nation out quite a bit.
COACHES' CHALKBOARD AND STYLE OF PLAY
Without Clyde Simms it seems like the machine has a huge missing cog. With Simms in the lineup, Shalrie's duties and responsibilities were much clearer. Without Simms, it almost seems like Shalrie tries to do too much and it ends up costing the team rather than helping it.
Ryan Guy has performed fine in Simms absence, but with the team's defensive woes continuing, you'd almost like to see a switch to something a little more defensive minded (truthfully, you could talk me into a 4-5-1 at this point, with Joseph AND Simms at CDM).
The Revs were under heavy siege early, partially due to the fact without Simms their ability to win and hold possession suffered. After the first goal, New England played their style of game a little better, and frankly were unlucky on the second goal to not clear the lines. It felt like the Revs were going to be the next team to score after the first goal, as the midfield found a good rhythm and Feilhaber found Sene more frequently.
Defensively, it does feel like the team has dialed back the pressure going forward. Kevin Alston has done a much better job of being selective in his runs forward into the attack, and by doing so, it also makes his advances more fruitful, as they're of better quality. However, from a set-piece point of view, this team at times looks absolutely lost. The first goal came from a long, floating free kick that was flicked on (I still don't know where Reis was on that play) and the second off a corner where Alston's head was turned and the United midfielder won the cross.
Set pieces will often times decide the result of the match, and if this team can't figure out how to defend them, it's going to be a long summer. Ultimately, it's on Reis and Soares, who need to be the General and Sergeant out there in those situations, and seeing as neither of those guys are going anywhere anytime soon, it's time for them to step up and take control.
SUBSTITUTIONS AND COACHES' DECISIONS
Fernando Cardenas for Ryan Guy 28' (INJURY)
Kelyn Rowe for Lee Nguyen 65'
Jose Moreno for Blake Brettschneider 69'
Good subs all around on the night. Unfortunately the first one was forced, as Ryan Guy went down with an apparent calf injury in the 28th minute. Good move from Heaps to bring on Cardenas, who moved out to the wing, pushing Shalrie to CDM and Benny to CAM (perhaps should have been that way from the start?)
Rowe entered the match for Nguyen, who, to be fair, wasn't having his best night. Rowe was going to bring some fresh legs and different attitude and the sub also may have had an eye towards Tuesday night as well.
Seems like Moreno isn't fully healthy yet, as he only got 20 minutes of play in the match, and one would have to think that if he were health he'd have gotten more than that. It wasn't Blake's night either, as he seemed to be pushing too much and nothing seemed to click, so good on Jay Heaps for making the switch.
U.S. OPEN CUP MATCH @ HARRISBURG CITY ISLANDERS
As I had mentioned, there wasn't a live stream, and I wasn't at the match, so I'm not going to offer up much here without the proper material, so everything here is based on the facts we all know:
If you watched Jeff Lemieux's "Game Day" feature on the team's site, he mentioned that seven starters went back to Foxboro after the D.C. match. Players like Lee Nguyen, Benny Feilhaber, Kelyn Rowe, Fernando Cardenas and Jose Moreno were all available for selection.
With that being said, there's no reason this team shouldn't have had much trouble with a third tier side. Benny Feilhaber will make $446,000 this season alone. I'd venture a guess that the entire City Islanders team won't equal that. Starters or not, the side that took the field should be able to get the job done.
Revs lineup: Shuttleworth - Polak, Lozano, Barnes, Purdie - Roach, Cardenas, Rowe, White - Fagunez, Moreno
You could say that there were two starters in the XI for New England with Rowe and Moreno. Cardenas and Lozano are both quality as well, so you had to somewhat feel comfortable, especially with everyone's darling, Diego Fagundez playing as well.
There's two ways to go with an early round match: go all out and play your starters, hope they pile on, and then bring on your bench to preserve the lead, or you can do what Heaps did and try a little mixture of both, saving your best players, and if you need to call in the cavalry, do it.
Here's the issue with what went down last night: it doesn't matter what the philosophy was, when Fagundez stupidly earns a red, EVERYTHING is out the window. Now you just try to survive. Which the Revs seemingly did, until the last nine minutes of the match.
This tournament will never gain the respect it deserves so long as MLS teams treat it like a reserve match. I hate to say it, but the odds of the Revolution catching fire in this tournament and winning five games are much greater than making the MLS playoffs, let alone winning MLS Cup. The winner of the USOC earns a bid to the CONCACAF Champions League, which is an international tournament. You don't think the prestige of playing in such a competition would have an effect on transfers wanting to come to New England? You're dead wrong. I'm not saying it'd be a huge draw, but the lure of playing international club soccer does have a certain caché with players.
You play every match to win, and never take an opponent lightly. Ever. I'm not saying they didn't play to win, I'm saying they took this third tier side (a side that beat them three years ago too) too lightly. You put guys like Polak, White, Fagundez, Puride and Shuttleworth who have all rarely played, out on the field in a meaningful match. Again, it's on the players to perform, and there is no one person to blame here. The Revs should have loaded both barrels, run this team off the field, and THEN let the fringe players see minutes.
LOOKING AHEAD FOR THE REVS
Chicago comes into town this Saturday for an old-fashioned "six-pointer". With the Revs slipping in the standings, a win at home against the Fire is almost a must. A loss to Chicago at home would put the Revs 8 points behind them in the standings as they enter the month of June.
Well, seeing as most of the starters went back to Foxboro after the United match, you'd think they'd be well rested. What Heaps does with the first team players that saw minutes reamins to be seen. I'd expect Feilhaber to play, as well as Nguyen, but the others will almost certainly start on the bench and may not even see the field.
COUCH CAPTAIN'S LINEUP vs. CHICAGO FIRE: Reis; Tierney, McCarthy, Soares, Alston; Nguyen, Simms, Joseph, Feilhaber; Sene, Brettschneider
Coming off an injury there's no way Moreno starts in this one. If Simms continues to be out, I'd expect to see Ryan Guy fill in, and maybe even play in his proper role and move Shalrie to CDM, as the team seems to play better with him there. Feilhaber and Nguyen *should* be fit enough to start the match, and seeing as they're the most dangerous wing tandem the Revs have, expect to see them on the field.
It's hard to see a good result here. Chicago has played well, and New England continues to struggle defensively. With Barnes playing on Tuesday night as well as Lozano, I don't see the back four changing, which could mean more of the same. I hope I'm wrong, but it could be a tough night on Saturday.
PREDICTION: FIRE 2 - REVS 1