It's a full-blown late-summer slump in New England, and after one of their most paltry performances of the season, the New England Revolution need a slump-buster. The return of Jerry Bengtson proved to be not enough to spark the struggling Revs offense, and for the fifth time in six matches, New England came out on the short end of the fixture.
Thirteen points adrift of the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, New England are teetering perilously close to flipping the switch to "next-year mode", and without their captain and midfield stalwart, Shalrie Joseph, the team is currently in a very important transition period. It's not really about the captaincy right now, it's more about who is going to step up on the field and make an impact.
In this week's Couch Captain, it's more of the same, as we try to see where the Revs have gone astray. Their DP striker may be back, but other questions have arisen: What is the best formation for this team? Is Saer Sene being utilized properly? When is it time to play some of the younger guys for the experience? All this and more after the jump!
NE Injury Report – August 10, 2012
QUESTIONABLE: Kevin Alston (L hamstring soreness), A.J. Soares (R hamstring strain)
OUT: Blair Gavin (L hamstring tightness), Alec Purdie (L ankle sprain), Bobby Shuttleworth (L knee sprain)
Once again two of the four starting defenders were on the inured list, which certainly concerned me. Aside from just a few mental lapses that have hurt, this defense has been really good. With Darrius Barnes behind Soares, and Alston's skill set being so unique, it'd be harder to replace the right back in the lineup.
JAY HEAPS LINEUP vs. MONTREAL: New England Revolution: Matt Reis, Chris Tierney, Stephen McCarthy, A.J. Soares, Kevin Alston, Lee Nguyen, Clyde Simms © (Diego Fagundez 80), Benny Feilhaber (Kelyn Rowe 66), Ryan Guy, Saer Sene, Jerry Bengtson (Fernando Cardenas 62)
Straight off the jump, you notice both Alston and Soares making the start. Really big news for the team, and it definitely added a little confidence for Revs fans when the team sheet was announced.
Honduran Olympian Jerry Bengtson made his return after his journey, and there were really two trains of though regarding the striker. On the one hand, you'd love to be able to give him some extra rest, and maybe bring him in off the bench given the miles on his legs in recent weeks. However, given the team's offensive struggles, you almost feel like Jay Heaps' hand was played for him. Nothing wrong either way, but given Bengtson's rusty performance, you could see maybe the former would have been the better play.
The midfield is the easier part of the formation to figure out these days, with Joseph's departure paving the way for Clyde Simms to start every match in the same spot, and with Lee Nguyen and Benny Feilhaber on good form, it seemed as if the only question these days is who plays out wide on the right. That question, for the time being, is answered with Ryan Guy, whose leadership by example and untiring energy have earned him a role on this team.
COACHES CHALKBOARD AND STYLE OF PLAY
If you have to label your formations, I guess I can satisfy that with calling this a 4-2-3-1, with Feilhaber in a deeper central role with Simms. Once again, the main topic of conversation in this set-up was the position of Saer Sene. A hot topic of late, it seems as though the fans are growing slightly weary of the Sene-as-a-midfielder experiment, and with the Revs mired in a scoring slump, it may be time to switch it up.
If you're looking for an opinion, I feel like Sene is being wrongly placed out on the right flank. He's a striker, and a pretty good one in MLS. I feel like the positions on the field he finds himself in, even when he creates scoring opportunities, aren't ones that put him in a good spot given his abilities. Sene belongs in the box, working off another striker, creating havoc with his dribbling and speed.
Benny Feilhaber has found himself deeper in the formation as of late, and he truly seems to be accepting the role, and his contributions are really beginning to show. No one on this club can pick out a runner and hit him with a through-ball better than Benny, and with his deep central role, he's able to see the field develop, and has picked apart opposing defenses.
SUBSTITUTIONS AND COACHES DECISIONS
All three substitutions were used on the night:
Fernando Cardenas for Jerry Bengtson (62')
Kelyn Rowe for Benny Feilhaber (68')
Diego Fagundez for Clyde Simms (80')
First, and foremost, I'd like to get one observation out of the way: I watched this match on DVR, so I originally followed along via social media, and you know how I knew the match was a mess? Look at these substitutions: Heaps subbed on a teenager, a rookie, and an undersized speedy winger for what many folks would call his THREE BEST PLAYERS on the field.
Cardenas entered for Bengtson, who was clearly gassed, after reaching the quarterfinals of the Olympic tournament. While the Honduran escaped London unharmed, you've got to think there's something to be said about all of the travel. How David Beckham does it is beyond my realm of expertise.
Rowe was subbed on for Feilhaber, who seemed a little out of sorts towards the end of his night. Perhaps a burst of fresh legs were the answer to sparking the offense. I still feel like Feilhaber deserved to stay on, but with such a strong squad, all of the decisions are going to be difficult.
I originally wasn't thrilled with the Fagundez sub, but, given the fact that the other option was Dimitry Imbongo, I understood the thought process. The Revs needed a spark, and it's pretty clear that Diego seems, for whatever reason, to play better at home.
What else is there to say that hasn't been discussed ad nauseum? Slumps are a funny thing, and sometimes, it's the smallest little break or stroke of luck that snaps it, but at the moment, it feels like this team is never going to score another goal. They've come close, and the chances are coming, but it's going to take someone stepping up and finishing a goal to instill some confidence in this squad.
Luckily, the defense has performed admirably. New England have given up 7 goals in their last 7 matches, and have thrown in two shutouts. With opposing teams only scoring a single goal on most nights, you can see where there's opportunity for this team to break out and put a few wins together, however, it all starts with the playmakers up front getting the team on the scoresheet.
As far as getting minutes for the youngsters, if I'm Jay Heaps, I'm playing my best XI until I'm mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. Even if this team is, for argument's sake, out of the playoff race, their trying to build SOMETHING for the future. Figure out the team, the formation, and the chemistry in this transition year, and take no prisoners in 2013.
Which brings us to the last big question: what's the proper formation? The 4-2-3-1 seen Sunday night was interesting, but it may be time to go back to the 4-4-2. The extra striker in the box may lead to better quality chances, and with the defense performing well, you can get away with just playing Simms as the holding defensive mid. Nguyen out left, Guy out right, Benny as the attacking central mid, and Sene partnering with Bengtson in the box.
It all seems easy on paper, no? Well, sadly, games aren't played on paper, and if the team's fortunes don't turn around quickly, soccer games won't be played on the field at Gillette Stadium in November either.