The conditions for Saturday's match were not only dreary and cold, they were downright miserable. Often times when the weather plays a factor, it tends to throw a lot of the the things you wanted to do tactically right out the window.
With that being said, I've got to say that (and this is in no-means a knee-jerk reaction because it's Tuesday) Saturday's match may have been the most unattractive game of soccer New England has played under Jay Heaps.
Long ball after long ball, ill-advised passes, and upfield bombs to no one all attributed to an increasingly ugly affair against what is apparently New England's rival team (don't get me started).
Was there anything that could have been done differently? Well, I guess that's why I write this column so let's take a look!
JAY HEAPS LINEUP vs. PHILLY: Bobby Shuttleworth, Kevin Alston, Jose Goncalves, A.J. Soares, Andrew Farrell; Lee Nguyen, Clyde Simms © , Scott Caldwell, Kelyn Rowe, Juan Toja; Jerry Bengtson
No complaints from me here, really. I had said before the opener that given the current state of the squad I wouldn't be surprised to see some sort of a 4-2-3-1 formation, and that was exactly what we got here.
There's only one problem: when playing this type of formation, possession, as well as proper build up play, is absolutely vital. If you've only got one lone striker up top, you're absolutely destroying your chances of creating ANYTHING when you mindlessly hoof long balls upfield and hope for the best.
This formation is designed to control the middle of the field, while allowing your team to methodically build up possession which allows them to then get the ball to their playmaking wingers and provide service to the target forward.
That didn't happen on Saturday.
I loved the lineup when I saw it, knowing full well that New England wouldn't have had any trouble owning the midfield. I personally can't even make an argument really for any one else to have started, although after watching Andy Dorman's performance in the second half I certainly wouldn't mind seeing more of him.
GAME PLAN AND PHILOSOPHY
Hard to tell, really. When you waste possession as often as the Revs did on Saturday, it's hard to see what they were really trying to do.
For certain, the center of the field was the focus. When the Revs managed to win the ball and begin building, it was mostly through the center of the field through Simms, Caldwell, and Toja. The one thing I did notice, was that the lack of pace from the CAM seemed to hurt New England. Philadelphia did a great job using their speed to close down any and all Revs ball carriers, which really caused an issue for the Revs.
In my eyes, there's really no questioning that the Revs are better when they get the ball out wide to their talented wingers and build from there. With the addition of players like Donnie Smith this year, and roster incumbents like Kelyn Rowe, and Lee Nguyen, this team shouldn't have an issue with finding the right combination of outside midfielders to compliment their striker up top.
Lack of service and poor distribution has killed this team in recent years, and unfortunately, Saturday was an awful reminder of that. Several fans got on Jerry Bengtson for having a poor game, but quite frankly, there aren't many strikers in the world, let alone MLS, that can create something on their own out of nothing. Bengtson is a poacher, and needs someone to play off of him in order to be successful. Just look at his goal against Chicago: good build up, great service ball in, goal.
The back four needs to do a better job of holding onto the ball after they work so hard to win it. Jose Gonçalves did a good job on a few occasions of winning the ball and then looking to distribute it instead of hoofing it upfield, and if the Revs are going to be successful creating goals, that needs to happen all along the back line.
With Saer Sene still out on the horizon for another month or so, the Revs may need to scrap the five man midfield if they're not going to play it properly. What's even more scary, is that heading into Saturday's match against Sporting Kansas City, they'll be without Bengtson, leaving a huge hole up top. It may be time to play something a little more vanilla, and add a second striker up top to give the Revs a better chance to create chances.
SUBSTITUTIONS AND DECISIONS
All three subs came on for Heaps, some interesting choices for sure, but in such a drab game, it's often normal to chase the match.
DORMAN for SIMMS (HT)
CHRIS TIERNEY AND CHAD BARRETT for ALSTON AND TOJA (79')
Had to be one of Clyde Simms poorer performances on Saturday, and I couldn't quite figure out if it was the weather, or just not getting into the flow. Simms is often times incredibly smooth and professional, so I'd expect him to bounce right back this weekend.
I felt like Dorman brought a little more teeth to the Revs game, and he certainly looks a little better going forward than I remember. A good sub at the half, trying to change the course of the game.
While some folks weren't clear on the Alston sub, it made perfect sense to me. The Revs had lacked service ALL DAY, and quite frankly, Chris Tierney may be the best ball serving midfielder this team has. While they sacrificed a little speed, they gained a bunch of control and service. Good sub.
The only issue I had for the sub for Toja was that it came too late in my opinion. Toja looked slow all day, and with Philly's midfield and defenders playing so up-tempo and high pressure, he struggled to make an impact on the match. If the Revs were playing a little more methodically and built up their possession I feel like Toja may have had more of an impact.
Happy to see Barrett on the field, and what little I saw of him I liked. Seems pretty comfortable holding the ball up, which might be what this team needs up top.
There's no denying this team is better defensively. Time and again the Revs made big stops, but it was their lack of disciplined distribution that was their undoing all afternoon long.
The thing that perplexes me the most is that this back line has a ton of talent with the ball at their feet. Andrew Farrell is very comfortable with the ball, Alston absolutely has the ability, and you saw from Gonçalves that he can also handle the ball at his feet. So the question is, why aren't we doing that more often?
I don't care if this next statement is incredibly unpopular, bur here it is: I'd rather my guys lose the ball trying to dribble out and create something instead of just mindlessly hoofing it upfield. At least they're trying to CREATE something, some sort of game and rhythm. People complained about Farrell perhaps getting a little too comfortable against Chicago, but now, after seeing the complete opposite, you really want to see that more? Use your talent, lads, and build from the back.
Finally, as for the home opener against Sporting Kansas City, it's going to be difficult with Jerry, we all know that, but if we can find solace in one thing, is that SKC really hasn't impressed me yet. They are absolutely beatable, and without Graham Zusi, they're going to have to rely on Benny Feilhaber, and quite frankly, we all know how that story turns out.
I'm hoping the Revs play with two strikers on Saturday, simply for the fact that they're playing at home, and will need the extra attacker to create chances after such a poor performance on Saturday. The back line will remain the same in my estimation, but the midfield may look a little different.
Will we see the BeiberGundez on Saturday? Perhaps. It's all going to depend on how Heaps wants to approach the match. Sporting is very talented at the back, and it's going to take a massive effort to pull off a result in front of the home fans. However, if it's me, I'm playing a boring 4-4-2, with speed on the wings, and trying to see if we can build a better rhythm.
I'd probably play Donnie Smith on the left, Lee Nguyen on the right, and slide Rowe into the center, because I feel his best soccer in 2013 has been in the middle of the field. As for that second center mid, it'd be one of the CDM's, Cisse is he's healthy, Simms if not.
Here's hoping to a better performance on Saturday to delight the Revs' faithful in the home opener!