The worst part about Sunday night's heart-wrenching defeat? It felt FAR too familiar. This Revs franchise elevated losing to an art-form last season, with several late defeats ranging from the shocking all the way to the downright expected. Sunday night seemed to dial the clocks back a bit, and the New England Revolution managed to squander an early 1-0 lead and through a controversial (and needless) penalty call and a late winner, fell to another discouraging defeat.
Has this Revs team hit a plateau? I've felt for quite some time (right around the RSL match) that this team is still a year away, but their strong start and promising acquisitions changed the outlook of many Revs fans throughout New England. With Chicago eight points clear and level on matches played, the final playoff spot is beginning to fade away into the horizon.
So what's the remedy? Is there one? Can Shalrie Joseph and Clyde SImms just not share the field at the same time? WIll the REAL Benny Feilhaber please stand up? In this week's Couch Captain, we try to answer these questions and more, so join us after the jump!
PROBABLE: Clyde Simms (R gastroc tightness)
QUESTIONABLE: Darrius Barnes (L adductor strain), Diego Fagundez (L ankle sprain), Benny Feilhaber (R ankle sprain), Bobby Shuttleworth (L knee sprain)
OUT: Alec Purdie (L ankle sprain)
Simms being probable was good news for Jay Heaps, while the inclusion of Benny Feilhaber as "questionable" not only worried me, it may also have a part in explaining his sub-par performance on the night. Fagundez being banged up certainly shortened the bench from a striker standpoint, and ditto for Barnes at the back. While Barnes ended up playing, Diego was left off the squad completely.
JAY HEAPS LINEUP vs. PHILADELPHIA: Matt Reis, Chris Tierney, A.J. Soares, Stephen McCarthy, Kevin Alston, Kelyn Rowe, Lee Nguyen, Benny Feilhaber, Clyde Simms ©, Saer Sene, Ryan Guy
While NBC may have had this lineup shown as sort of a pseudo-4-4-1-1 with Sene behind Ryan Guy, it really played out more like a 4-5-1. Nothing shocking at all, given Simms return to relatively full health (although you can still see he's ailed by something) and Kelyn Rowe has played well recently, earning him the start.
The Ryan Guy vs. Blake Brettschneider argument is interesting to me. Guy, in my opinion, possesses more offensive punch, speed, and knack for creativity, but when lined up as a "target" striker, I think Brettschneider brings more to the table. The bigger, more physical frame helps with the hold-up play, however his lacking offensive finishing power in front of net seems to be what's keeping him from the starting 11.
Also, you'll notice, The Striker Who Shall Not Be Named was left off the injury report, as well as the squad of 18. Enjoy your trip back to Colombia, nobody will miss you.
COACHES CHALKBOARD AND STYLE OF PLAY
As I touched on earlier, the lineup played out more as a 4-5-1, with Saer Sene once again taking up shop on the right flank, a move I really don't like at all. "But Matty, he scored, and had one of his better games". I know he did, but let's face it, given how bad his slump has been, I'd say he was due. If you go back and watch that exchange when the the Philadelphia keeper was caught off his line and Sene had the ball deep in the box AND REFUSED TO USE HIS RIGHT FOOT, you'll see my problem. If you put Sene on the right flank, soon the ENTIRE league is going to know, if they don't already, that he absolutely HAS to cut back to his left. Too predictable. Put him in the box, and let him play striker, that's why you signed him.
Another interesting move was pushing Lee Nguyen into the middle, leaving Feilhaber to play more of a reduced role on the flank it seemed, and you could see how it affected the play of both players. Nguyen almost became too unselfish trying to create for his other teammates in the center of the park, and Benny had one of those reserved, not-really-into-it kind of matches. For a team that was playing so attractively, Jay Heaps really does seem to change the tactics quite frequently.
Ryan Guy once again took up the forward role, and again seemed to play pretty well, given what he was giving up in size to the Philly CB's. Guy used his speed and dynamic ability to win the ball, and while he didn't score on the night, he certainly was a good cog in the Revolution offense.
The back four returned to it's original, more familiar pairing, giving the Revs a comfort at the back. However, the needless fouls (and in this case, penalty kicks) have got to cease if this team is going to move forward. New England dominated the pace and style of play for long stretches of time, and it's all undone by one major, needless mistake. The penalty gave Philadelphia all the momentum, and with both CB's playing on yellow cards, the match was turned on its head.
SUBSTITUTIONS AND COACHES DECISIONS
All three subs were used by Heaps, and with the injury situation being what it was, and Brian Bilello's #9 headed back to Colombia for all I care, the bench wasn't very strong, and was certainly much shorter than what Heaps was used to. Given all of the circumstances, it's tough to argue with what he did.
Shalrie Joseph for Clyde Simms 60'
Dimitry Imbongo for Kelyn Rowe 69'
Darrius Barnes for A.J. Soares 71'
Hard to make out what is going on with the Joseph/Simms dynamic. I can't tell if the minute are being split up, if they can't play together, or if they're both still just banged up. It's odd they don't see the field much together, however. So, this sub is pretty easily summed up: like for like. Similar players, same role.
Revs fans got an underwhelming look at their new striker signing in the 69th minute, replacing a seemingly-gassed Kelyn Rowe. Probably my third choice here. Fernando Cardenas would have been a lively choice, and a similar role. Brettschneider could have taken over the holding target role, too, pushing Guy to a more withdrawn forward, or even midfield role. Given his performance, this may have been a misfire by Jay Heaps. Imbongo had very little impact.
Great, gutsy sub for Soares in the 71st minute with Barnes. A.J. wasn't having his best night, and definitely had that "dumb-foul-for-second-yellow-card" look to his game for sure. Barnes performed well enough, and again, with the lack of depth, a good sub given the circumstances.
While we all applauded Jay Heaps for his "earn your spot every week" approach in recent weeks, we're realizing something: there's a downside to not having a first-choice 11. With all of the injuries, as well as tinkering, this team rarely plays the same starting 11, and it's often the midfield that changes.
The midfield is by far the deepest, and most talented position on this Revs team, and I truly feel that it's the midfield, not the forwards, that's going to have the final say in where this team ends up in October. How Jay Heaps manages this group is going to be the story of the season when it's all said and done. Figuring out how to get this group to play together, aggressively and attractively, is the biggest question facing this team.
One night it's Feilhaber in the middle, then it's Nguyen. One night it's Shalrie, then it's Simms. If it's not Kelyn Rowe, it's Cardenas, or even Guy. Figure it out, and stick with it, and breed chemistry and form through familiarity and experience as a unit. For me? Play the 4-5-1 until Jerry Bengston returns. Play Simms-Joseph as the back two DM's. Lee on the left, Benny in the middle, Kelyn out right, and Sene up top. One striker hasn't been the answer in years past, but it is now when you have the best grouping of five midfielders in the league.
Now, I know there are outside influences like suspensions, injuries, form, etc. Believe me, it's not my first blogging rodeo. However, getting something close to a first-choice team would help a little. We know what the first-choice back four looks like, and we know that for the most part, Saer Sene is the man right now up top, but it's the midfield that has yet to form it's identity, which is troubling given it's also the most talented of the groups.
With things beginning to slip away, the time is now to figure out where this team is headed. Find your starting 11, keep it, and build some momentum, or else is just going to be another "wait 'til next year" campaigns in 2012 in New England.