Often times in professional sports (sometimes unfairly) a head coach's success is measured by how you fare in rivalry games. If Sunday night is a sign of what's to come, Jay Heaps is going to be really popular in New England soccer circles.
Coupling a dynamic offensive performance with a solid back four, the Revolution defeated New York 2-0 in front of the home fans in Foxboro, besting their win total from last year. Results are everything in sports when you look at the head coach, and with Jay Heaps getting the Revs to play inspired, entertaining soccer as well as gain the results, it's hard to see him going anywhere.
So, just as a heads-up, if you're the cynical, bitter Revs fan, you might not enjoy this week's Couch Captain because after the jump we take a look at what's really going right in Foxboro these days!
NE Injury Report – July 6, 2012
PROBABLE: Kelyn Rowe (concussion)
QUESTIONABLE: Kevin Alston (L hamstring tightness), Zak Boggs (DL - R ankle sprain)
DOUBTFUL: Shalrie Joseph (L knee sprain), Jose Moreno (L ankle sprain)
OUT: Tim Murray (L knee menisectomy), Alec Purdie (L ankle sprain)
So, obviously the biggest name listed in the injury report was Shalrie Joseph, but with the Revs picking up some quality depth in Clyde Simms, the absence of the Captain doesn't hurt as much as it has in the past.
Kevin Alston being a little banged up certainly hurt as well, because his speed and mobility is such a strong part of his game. If Kevin was going to play, I felt like he would have been a little more cautious, which may actually work out in New England's favor.
JAY HEAPS LINEUP vs. NEW YORK: Shuttleworth, Tierney, Soares, McCarthy, Alston, Nguyen, Simms, Feilhaber, Rowe, Sene, Brettschneider
So, first and foremost, the decision to sit Matt Reis was something I didn't see coming. I guess from a performance point of view maybe you could, given the past few matches where Reis has surrendered some pretty cheap goals. However, that being said, it's NEVER easy making the decision to sit a well-liked, veteran presence, let alone a goalkeeper. Kudos to Jay for that, big time.
Everything else from a lineup standpoint really made sense. Rowe was a bit of a surprise coming off of his concussion, and after watching him play you could see that maybe he should have sat this one out. With Shalrie coming off the bench still shaking off that knee injury, Simms played the CDM role which allowed Benny to play in the center of the attacking midfield to create and wreak havoc on the New York back line.
I was totally fine with Brettschneider getting the start also, given his work rate and hold up play. I felt like if Jay had started Bengtson right way, it would have felt forced, so placing him on the bench to begin the match was the right call.
COACHES CHALKBOARD AND STYLE OF PLAY
More of the same from New England from an offensive standpoint, although from the start it looked as if Saer Sene was drifting out to the left a little more, which was much better than the out wide right position he was taking in the 4-2-3-1. This allowed Lee Nguyen to play more centrally and cut-in, as was evident in his goal. Lee, like Benny, seems to be better when he's more central, it gives him more options to use his dynamic skill set.
With Sene playing out wide a little more, you really see how dangerous he can be on the ball, and that's not just from a solo point of view either. His dribbling runs into the teeth of the defense really help to open up opportunities for his teammates. Heaps is doing a great job of utilizing his talismanic striker, and now with a DP strike partner, you can't help but feel giddy with excitement over what the future may hold.
Defensively speaking, it seemed like Chris Tierney was a little more selective in his runs forward given the fact that he knew he had to deal with Dane Richards down the left flank all night long. By being a little more focused on his defensive responsibilities on the night, Tierney produced one of his finest performances of the season.
While it's unclear when the decision was made to sit Matt Reis, I thought Bobby Shuttleworth did a great job in his spot start. Being a backup keeper cannot be easy, especially when you're replacing the best keeper in team history. On the audio feed of the match you could really hear him barking out instructions to his defenders, which is what this team really needs at times. He commanded the box quite well, was decisive in his decision-making, and most importantly, kept a clean sheet.
SUBSTITUTIONS AND COACHES DECISIONS
This, in my opinion, is where Jay Heaps truly shines. His in-game management has been stellar during the team's recent five-game unbeaten streak. You can really see how Jay's illustrious career as a good professional player comes in handy when reading the match as a coach. He feels the match out so well, and makes his decisions based on what his gut tells him to do.
Sunday night was no different, as each sub had a purpose, and the results showed:
Jerry Bengtson for Blake Brettschneider 60'
Shalrie Joseph for Benny Feilhaber 73'
Diego Fagundez for Kelyn Rowe 89'
The man everyone wanted to see came on at the 60 minute mark, and I thought that at the time it was the right call. The game had gotten a little stale from the Revs offensively, and Jay did the right thing in not only playing his DP striker, but taking off Brettschneider, whose play seemed to diminish slightly in the second half.
The second sub seems to be what everyone wants to talk about. Not necessarily for the sub itself (I thought bringing in a second CDM with a 1-0 lead at home made a ton of sense) but for how Benny reacted to it. Clearly Feilhaber didn't want to come off and made it perfectly clear to Jay, who then gave him a little talking to and told him to sit down. Heaps has proven that he's not afraid to sit anyone down at anytime, and that spots are earned. In this case, Benny played well all night, and was subbed off for what seemed like tactical reasons. He needs to be a professional and accept the decisions made by the coaching staff.
The Rowe substitution baffled me in two ways: Why in the world did it take so long to come, and why was it Fagundez. Part two of that conundrum was easy: you're not gonna keep the guy on the bench on his own bobble head night. However, it bothered me it took Jay so long to replace Rowe. He clearly was fighting some symptoms of his concussion in the previous match, and wasn't himself for most of the night. I would have liked to have seen this around the 65-70 minute mark.
It's the mid-way point of the season and the Revs are only three points out of the playoffs with a game in hand on Houston. New England only earned 28 points all of last season, and they sit on 22 points as you're reading this article. The culture is changing in Foxboro, there's a winning attitude in the camp, and the fans are beginning to see what this team possibly could be in the very near future.
The most intriguing storyline to me going forward is how Jay will handle the midfield situation as players get back to full health. No one played better than Benny Feilhaber in June, but there's also two extremely talented CDM in the mix in Simms and Joseph. If Heaps can figure out a way to get the best from all three players on the field at once, no one will be better than this team in the midfield.
Toronto FC will come to Foxboro on Saturday night as the Revs look to continue their unbeaten streak. With Sene and Bengtson firing on all cylinders (I expect them both to start) and a health midfield, this Revs team is going to be awfully hard to beat at home. As long as this defense continues to gel and improve, New England can keep climbing up the standings into playoff contention.