After a whirlwind week in Foxboro, the New England Revolution produced what many have called their worst performance of the season. The Revs endured a week that saw them trade away an icon, as well as their captain, Shalrie Joseph, and the quality on the field resembled a side that were knee-deep in turmoil.
With Jerry Bengtson away on Olympic National Team duty, as well as Jose Moreno on his way out the door, New England had to figure out how to pack an offensive punch through someone other than Saer Sene, and without the calming influence of Joseph in the midfield, it was time for someone else to step up.
How players perform under pressure and in the face of adversity really tells you a lot about their make-up, and while I refuse to read into the poor performances of Clyde Simms and Lee Nguyen in this match after the week the team had, it does deserve a mention.
Jay Heaps is definitely installing HIS philosophy, HIS "guys", and ultimately, HIS personality, which many Revs fans are already very accustomed to. Does it translate when you've got the manager's tag? On the surface, trading away the team's captain because you weren't seeing eye-to-eye sheds a negative light, but if you look closely, it shows a man in charge of his emotions, as well as his club and its new direction.
In this week's Couch Captain we try to unravel this mess of a slump, and figure out just where this team may be headed with only a dozen matches left.
NE Injury Report – August 3, 2012
QUESTIONABLE: Kevin Alston (L hamstring soreness)
DOUBTFUL: Blair Gavin (L hamstring tightness), A.J. Soares (R hamstring strain)
OUT: Alec Purdie (L ankle sprain), Bobby Shuttleworth (L knee sprain)
Tough sledding when two of your four starting defenders are on the injury report. The loss of Soares would normally be looked at as the more grave of the two losses, but with the Revs lack of depth at defender, it makes it hard to duplicate the talents of a player like Alston as well. If the Revs were going to earn a result, it'd be with a hole or two in defense needing answers.
Blair Gavin was never going to play in this one anyway, so it's probably a good thing that he get the week off.
JAY HEAPS LINEUP vs. SPORTING KANSAS CITY: Matt Reis, Chris Tierney, Stephen McCarthy, Darrius Barnes, Flo Lechner, Lee Nguyen, Clyde Simms ©, Benny Feilhaber, Ryan Guy, Dimitry Imbongo, Saer Sene
Wow. No Alston. No Soares. No Joseph. If I was confident after seeing the SKC lineup come across Twitter, it immediately faded a little when I realized the Revs would be without half their starting defense. You replace Kevin Alston and his dynamic skill set with Flo Lechner, who's slower, less agile, but provides better service. The loss of Soares was big, but as I said, his replacement was a little more reliable, and closer to the skill set that New England was losing. Darrius Barnes is a serviceable center defender in MLS, and once again proved that point to be true.
While many fans clamored for Diego Fagundez in this one, I'll once again reiterate what I've said about him all along: he's a matchup starter. What I mean by that, is that he is a good start in certain situations. Against on the more physical teams in MLS (and you saw this play out on the night) he's just not a good start. Plus, personally, I wanted to see what Imbongo could bring to the table.
Clyde Simms assumed Shalrie's normal role (as if he hadn't done that already all season), and Ryan Guy played out on the right flank, a start I felt he earned after his good run of form.
Somebody in this lineup needed to have a big night and rise above all the turmoil that was the week leading up to the match. Unfortunately, that didn't happen.
COACHES' CHALKBOARD AND STYLE OF PLAY
Without Kevin Alston on the field, the Revs had a little more defensive solidarity on that side of the pitch, as Lecner would venture quite as far forward as Alston tends to. While Lechner provides the better service, his lack of speed was really an issue with making forward runs, and there were a few occasions that called for Ryan Guy to use his incredible motor to recover lost ground given up by Lechner.
Imbongo moved into the hold-up play spot in the strike partnership, playing the role Blake Brettschneider usually occupied. While his hold-up play was good, his finishing was not. Striker instincts, like finishing, are built over time, experience, and form, so I won't criticize Dimitry too much after his first start. Just know that it needs to be a lot better than that in the future.
Lee Nguyen and Benny Feilhaber returned to their usual roles on the left and center respectfully. While Nguyen had one of his worst games of the season, Feilhaber showed his versatility and overall worth to the team, exhibiting his prowess both offensively and defensively. The problem with CAM's is that their job, ultimately, is to create, and when their partners don't convert on the chances they create, it sometimes unfairly casts a shadow on their play. Benny is going to have a monster breakout sometime very soon, and you heard it here first.
SUBSTITUTIONS AND COACHES DECISIONS
The substitutions perplexed me a little, but given the circumstances, the players available, and the style of the game, each one had its own story:
Fernando Cardenas for Flo Lechner 46'
Diego Fagundez for Dimitry Imbongo 73'
Kelyn Rowe for Benny Feilhaber 78'
Lechner looked slow, pensive, and out of sorts for long stretches, so the sub didn't come as much of a surprise. Cardenas came in to play right mid, pushing Ryan Guy back to RB, where he performed quite well. Cardenas brought his usual game: tons of energy, little direction.
All of the Beibergundez fans saw what I was talking about when he joined the match: physical games shrink the teenager. Tough going when you're inserted into a very physical, borderline-chippy match with only one goal in it. Fagundez didn't leave nearly the impact Revs fans would hope, but it all adds to the learning experience.
On the surface you'd be a bit surprised by that last sub, but given Benny's yellow card only minutes earlier, it made sense. We know Benny has a temper, and in a very chippy match in the late going, you really didn't need to chase a goal being down a man.
Getting easier to write this column lately, though you think it'd be the other way around. This team is perilously close to putting it into "next-year-mode" and that will make the analysis a bit different. There aren't many matches left in this campaign, and with the controversy-laden roster moves behind them, perhaps the Revs can actually move forward and at least try to build on something positive.
So the question is: who's ready to step up? Jerry Bengtson and Honduras were eliminated, so I expect him back soon. Will his form translate to domestic league play? It's clear who the starting CDM (and captain?) is going to be from this point forward, and quite frankly, barring injuries, it's pretty clear to me who should be playing every week.
Can the Revs just forget all the negative stuff and leave it in the locker room? From what it sounds like from tweets coming from Chivas USA, the Joseph decision was made because of a difference of opinion and vision between he and Heaps, which couldn't have been good for the locker room. Jose Moreno was an absolute CANCER to this team, and I really do hate to say I told you so. However, now that two MAJOR distractions are gone, perhaps Heaps and Co. can go back to playing that fun, sexy style of soccer that had captivated soccer pundits across the country.