Two matches. Four days. A cross country trip. This is what faced Revolution coach Jay Heaps this week, and without overstating things, what a four days it turned out to be.
New England returned home to Foxboro to face Colorado on Wednesday night, and while the style changed a bit, and the soccer may not have been as aesthetically pleasing as their recent efforts, the Revolution put together a solid 90 minutes and defeated the Rapids 2-1 in front of the home fans.
Three nights later, after flying out to Real Salt Lake the day after their 2-1 victory over Colorado, a tired, but spirited New England side battled their way through a hotly-contested 90 minute match that saw red cards, controversy, and plenty of opportunity.
While the result wasn't what the Revs had hoped for, there were many positives to take out of their effort against Real Salt Lake, and you can slowly see this team taking shape, gelling together, and growing into the vision that Heaps has for this team.
In this week's Couch Captain I break down this hectic week and see where it all ended up when the smoke settled. What should this team look like going forward? Are better times ahead? After the jump it's time to dive into this past week, double-shot style!
This week was a little different with the congested match schedule, so I'm going to throw everything at you in a 2 for 1 style:
INJURY REPORT 5/1 : OUT: Zak Boggs (DL - R ankle sprain), Ryan Guy (r calf tightness), Flo Lechner (R 5th metatarsal fracture), Sainey Nyassi (DL - R hamstring strain), Jeremiah White (concussion)
Ryan Guy has performed admirably all season, but with several key players coming back from injury (John Lozano, Benny Feilhaber) , his absence wasn't as troubling as it could have been.
INJURY REPORT 5/4: PROBABLE: Kevin Alston (illness), Saer Sene (illness)
OUT: Zak Boggs (DL - R ankle sprain), Ryan Guy (R calf stiffness), Flo Lechner (R 5th metatarsal fracture), Jose Moreno (R calf strain), Sainey Nyassi (DL - R hamstring strain), Jeremiah White (concussion)
Saturday night's match was a little more dicey. Alston and Sene both were struggling with an illness (pure speculation, but it may have been what Lee Nguyen was battling also last week). Also, Moreno was added to the list and would not be available. This made Heaps' job incredibly difficult because he was without his starting forwards.
COUCH CAPTAIN'S LINEUP vs. COLORADO RAPIDS (4-4-2): Reis; Alston, Lozano, Soares, Barnes; Nguyen, Simms, Joseph, Feilhaber; Sene, Moreno
JAY HEAPS' LINEUP vs. COLORADO RAPIDS : New England Revolution: Matt Reis, Kevin Alston, Stephen McCarthy, A.J. Soares, Chris Tierney, Fernando Cardenas, Shalrie Joseph , Clyde Simms, Benny Feilhaber, Jose Moreno, Saer Sène
It's pretty evident that Heaps has a lot of faith in Stephen McCarthy. While I've been calling for the return of John Lozano, Heaps has held steady at the back and has continued to play McCarthy. Macca performed well on Wednesday night, and I've really enjoyed his progression.
Fernando Cardenas got the start over Lee Nguyen in the midfield, in what seemed like a move that had Saturday's match in mind as well. Cardenas did a great job, and played incredibly motivated, as you could see how much he wants to prove he should be starting.
While I left Kelyn Rowe off of the starting lineup, Heaps left him off the squad completely, giving him the night off.
COUCH CAPTAIN'S LINEUP vs. REAL SALT LAKE : 4-4-1-1 : Reis; Alston, McCarthy, Soares, Tierney; Nguyen, Simms, Joseph, Cardenas; Feilhaber; Sene
JAY HEAPS' LINEUP vs. REAL SALT LAKE: Reis - Tierney, Soares, Lozano, Alston - Nguyen, Joseph, Feilhaber, Simms, Rowe - Brettschneider
So the first thing that stuck out to everyone was the inclusion of Brettschneider (I totally forgot about him, to be honest) at striker. It seemed that Sene's sickness was bad enough to warrant him starting on the bench.
I wanted to play Cardenas' hot hand and give him the start, but Heaps went with the well-rested Rowe, which was a mistake. The rookie had a hard time grasping the flow of such a hotly-contested, emotional match.
So, after I finally give into McCarthy playing CB, Heaps gave the start to Lozano. I give up. Lozano plays very differently than McCarthy, and is less physically imposing. It's not like they're similar players. The style of play at the back changes with either player, and Heaps needs to figre out what direction this is going in.
COACHES' CHALKBOARD AND STYLE OF PLAY
Jay Heaps had mentioned prior to the Colorado match that he wanted his players to forget the attractive soccer they were playing and just do all the little things necessary to win. In other words, win at all cost, no matter how ugly.
It's not that New England played poorly on Wednesday against Colorado, it just seemed like everything was more direct. The first goal was blue-collar effort in the box between Simms, McCarthy and Sene, and the second was a very quick ball out to Cardenas, who sweetly chipped the keeper.
The Revs were definitely physical, and took the game to Colorado at points, and while they were caught out a few times in transition, the defending seemed a little better than it has in the past. Maybe the team needs to ease up a little bit on focusing on the "attractive" style of play, and just needs to do the dirty work a little more and learn to just pull out results?
Saturday night in Sandy, Utah is almost impossible to analyze. Red cards, injured players, sick players, emotions running on all kinds of highs, make it damn near impossible to figure out where things were headed and where they went wrong.
The Blake Brettschneider goal was beautiful, and it came from some very tidy play in the midfield. New England wasn't laying down for Real in the least bit, and even with several pieces missing they were getting the job done. Once the red card was shown, everything changes. The Revs became even more aggressive, and applied more pressure in the offensive third.
This team has shown that they can play "blue collar and ugly" and produce results, and were excruciatingly close to doing it twice in one week (no matter how you slice it, Saturday night was ugly. It was a knock down, physical, emotional fight.)
Going forward, you've got to like the passion in this team, as well as the attention to sticking to a game plan and philosophy. Hopefully a sign of good things to come.
SUBSTITUTIONS AND COACHES' DECISIONS
There were so many, let's just take a look at the ones that stood out:
Bjorn Runstrom for Fernando Cardenas (84' vs Colorado)
Right idea, wrong player. Saer Sene was gassed at the end of that match, and I would have preferred Cardenas to stay on the field. I understood that Sene was going to be better in holding the ball up, but I felt that Cardenas' ability to chase defensively would have been more important to the team.
Diego Fagundez for A.J. Soares (79' vs. Real Salt Lake)
I don't know about putting in a teenager (and a small one at that) in this kind of match. Fagundez hasn't seen the field, and THIS was the time you decided to play him? You could see he was uneasy in front of goal, and if Runstrom is available, you play him. I know people LOVE Diego in New England, but you have to look at it objectively: As physical and emotionally charged as that match was at that time, would you rather play a 5'8" (that's generous) 140 pound, 17 year old? Or would you play the 6'1", 175 pound striker who, at 28 years old, has played in the English Premier League?
LOOKING AHEAD FOR THE REVS
New England will return home finally after this crazy week and will play host to Vancouver on Saturday night. Coming off this incredibly taxing stretch you have to pay attention to the injury reports to figure out where this team is headed. Is Moreno's injury just a one match thing? WIll Alston and Sene get over the bug that's been ailing them?
Expect to see the players that shined this past week in the lineup. Players like Fernando Cardenas, Saer Sene, and Stephen McCarthy are earning their playing time. It may be time to sit down Kelyn Rowe, and let him develop a little further. Jay Heaps gave hm the keys to the Revs' right flank (I would have too) and he's had mixed results.
It's also time for Lee Nguyen to stand up and be counted. We've all fallen in love with the guy, me included, but at some point, you've got to ask the player to contribute more than he has. Lee is incredibly talented and dynamic, and it's time to see that transfer to the scoresheet.
It's early in the week, so injuries will alter this lineup, but this is what it should look like on Saturday night:
COUCH CAPTAIN'S LINEUP vs. VANCOUVER (4-4-2) : Reis; Alston, McCarthy, Soares, Tierney; Nguyen, Simms, Joseph, Feilhaber; Sene, Moreno
It could look very differently, as we don't know how bad Moreno's injury is yet, and Alston and Sene were sick on Saturday night. With Cardenas out serving a red card suspension, I'd still much rather see Lee Nguyen instead of Kelyn Rowe on the flank. Rowe needs to take a step back and develop a little further in my opinion. McCarthy should deal well with Vancouver's bigger, more physical attacking players, and should start over Lozano.
Vancouver has played well early on, so it'll be interesting to see which Revs team shows up. The defense is gelling and the attack has been more fruitful, so look for the Revs to produce another result at home this weekend.
COUCH CAPTAIN'S PREDICTION: REVS 2 - WHITECAPS 0