By time summer rolled around last year, the questions were piling up for Jay Heaps' New England Revolution squad. This season, after a month's worth of games, we have our first: where is the attack?
It's obvious to even the most pedestrian of soccer fans--this Revolution team is punch-less in the final third. Last season there was a similar ailment lingering, but it was perhaps more of a lack of clinical finishing in front of the net. What we have on our hands now is more than that; it is a lack of chances. After all, the chances have to come first before we can talk about our problems finishing them.
One thing I'll say is that I don't believe the issue at hand stems from a lack of chemistry. Our attacking midfielders have shown that they know how to link up with each other, swap wings with each other, and read each others' runs. I think the issue stems from more of a hesitation than anything.
Throughout MLS, New England currently has the fewest shots on goal (10) and the second fewest shots in general (32). Although it seems like they are finding themselves in good spaces when on the attack, no one out there is really pulling the trigger. And the person best suited to be doing just that is Juan Toja.
Heaps has employed a 5-man midfield through the Revs' first 4 games. The 5th midfielder (usually Toja with the exception of the most recent match against FC Dallas) has been positioned just behind the striker, with free will to roam wherever he pleases to assist with any and all attacks. Toja has shown that he can be very useful and very dangerous, yet he has not shown that he has a nose for goal, at least not like he used to in his old Dallas days.
Simply put, if Toja isn't going to start pulling the trigger, then we'll need to swap him out for someone that will. That person will most likely be Saer Sene within a month's time (give or take). Sene had his best games last season when he was paired with another striker. He prefers to play off of others and take advantage of chances. Sene is the type of player who doesn't hesitate to take a crack at goal. And that's what is missing from this team right now, if you ask me.
Until he returns, however, maybe Heaps will want to consider moving Toja to either the right or left wing and letting someone else take that withdrawn striker role. Lee Nguyen and Kelyn Rowe certainly deserve a shot (particularly Nguyen, in my opinion). Ryan Guy got his chance against FC Dallas, but it failed to click for the Revs--something wasn't working. This may have been, in part, because Toja was asked to play a more defensive role, partnering next to Clyde Simms, which is not exactly his game. I'd imagine that the wires might have gotten a little crossed with that setup. But with two defensive midfielders and Toja on one of the wings, this squad might just be able to get some sparks flying.
What will be interesting is whether Heaps does indeed plan to stick with this 5-man midfield even when Sene returns. We've seen that it can work, but will he continue to give the formation time to grown on everyone or will he abandon it for a 4-4-2 when Sene is back in the fold? And if the 4-5-1 persists, then can we really continue to rely on Jerry Bengtson to be that lone forward? There's no doubt that Sene and Bengtson could be a deadly duo if they can get on the same page, but it remains to be seen just what that page will look like.
As for the Revs' highly disappointing outing against FC Dallas this past weekend, I'd rather not dissect it all that much; it was a hard enough pill to swallow the first time around.
But I will say that the defense still looked great. Andrew Farrell and A.J. Soares are easily the two best players on this team right now and Jose Goncalves is not far behind. Kevin Alston, though, has not exactly been at the top of his game this season, and maybe some time on the bench will help illustrate that point.
Chris Tierney, despite his many critics, can succeed as this team's left back and should be given the opportunity to earn back his spot. If he can provide consistent service like he used to, then he can truly add another element to the Revs' game that is currently missing. Is he the fastest player out there? No, certainly not. But he is a serviceable defender, an MLS veteran (by most standards, I would argue), and a reliable teammate on and off the pitch.
Most importantly, though, is the success he had last season when paired with Lee Nguyen on the left-side. Tierney is a perfect compliment for Nguyen in that he can hold down the left side when Nguyen pinches in on the attack. The two were incredibly dangerous when they linked up last season, and I think that they can rekindle that magic if given the chance. If anything, this personnel move might revive Nguyen who has been just okay so far this season.
The long and short of it is that FC Dallas took advantage of the Revs at the same time that most teams take advantage of us: in the dying minutes. It's a ghost that Jay Heaps' squad just can't seem to put to rest. Same old Revs, some might say. But I say: keep the faith. The season is still young. There's still plenty of time. Let's reconvene in the summer, okay?