One of the first things you'd normally do when researching two opponents for a playoff matchup is to see how well they fared against each other in the regular season.
Well, back on July 16th, the New England Revolution traveled cross-country to play the Los Angeles Galaxy and lost 5-1. The Revs were at the time mired in what would become an eight-game losing streak. This was not a happy time for the Revs, who were using a bit of a makeshift lineup for their first game without Andy Dorman who was injured the game before against the Chicago Fire.
So what are the obvious reasons why you can't take anything from this game? Pull up a chair, this is going to take a while...and watch the highlight video again if you must.
1.Short Week, Cross-Country
I can assure you that any team in MLS that has to fly cross-country to play a midweek game is probably not winning against an opponent as good as the LA Galaxy. There's a lack of practice, losing time and sleep to travel and a whole host of other reasons why you won't be nearly as sharp as you can be. And the Revs were not sharp in this one, particularly defensively, giving up loads of space in the midfield. That's because...
2. A.J. Soares at Defensive Midfield/The Diamond Midfield
There have been worse ideas in the world, but at the time even this was a head-scratcher. Soares is not always known for his distribution and has always been a defense first player so asking him to be at the bottom of a diamond on a short week against an attack as good as LA's is perhaps throwing something against the wall to see if it will stick. The fact he was rightly sent off barely a half hour into the match for spiking Juninho didn't help matters either, as it left the Revs backline completely unprotected. As far as tactical failure go, this one was didn't work out but I give Jay Heaps credit for giving a different look to his formation and arguably, getting more defenders on the field since the Revs were hapless on the attack during the summer.
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3. Three At The Back
With twenty minutes to go in regulation, Revs head coach Jay Heaps used his final sub to bring on midfielder Daigo Kobayashi for right back Darrius Barnes, essentially going with a three-man backline of Chris Tierney, Jose Goncalves and Andrew Farrell in an attempt to claw their way out of a 3-1 deficit. Instead, the Galaxy found two more goals within ten minutes of that sub as everything fell apart for New England. So another tactical misfire from Heaps, it happens, but that wasn't the biggest issue for the Revs defense on the day.
4. Mental Errors
This was a plague on the Revs backline for the early half or so of the season, usually leading to losing one-on-one situations defensively and giving up goals. Goncalves stopping for the assistant's flag (that was for a foul against him), Farrell diving in against Zardes as the last man and missing, only to have the Galaxy striker's effort on goal be shut down by Bobby Shuttleworth. Darrius Barnes not being able to close down Robbie Keane at the top of the box as another run split him and Kelyn Rowe, allowing Keane to fire home the opener. Whatever Shuttleworth did on that Stefan Ishizaki free kick and whatever substitute Steve Neumann was thinking when he sent that amazing through ball to Keane to cap it all off.
Overall, there's just a lot of justifiably bad things that happened all those months ago. And it doesn't mean anything now. Why?
Well, Jermaine Jones for starters. That problem of not having any holding midfielders to shield the Revs backline was solved when he was signed back in August and you see the results on both sides of the ball for the Revolution. The distribution link between the defense and the attack was also re-established, also thanks in part to Scott Caldwell's resurgence towards the end of the year and into the playoffs. Caldwell's safer, less-aggressive approach also helps to cancel out the risk taking Jones, whose upfield crossing while incredibly dangerous is also not always accurate or on the same page as his teammates.
The biggest difference is actually the Revolution's defense. It's just flat out played better and while Jones' influence on the field is noticeable, and the end of the day the Revs defenders, both individually and as a unit, have erased most of the blatant errors that cost them goals in the early part of the year. Farrell in particular has been a force on the right flank winning balls in one-on-one situations and earlier in the year it seemed that almost every week one of his mistakes would end up in the back of the Revs net.
Now, I'd like to say there's something that the Revolution can take out of this game, and it's actually something they've been doing all year but this just happens to be a different group than the likely starters on Sunday.
This is the Revs only goal, and don't pay attention to Dan Gargan ruining it at the end, this is actually quite brilliant.
Fagundez gets the ball near midfield and carries it up the right wing, but this shouldn't be that much of an issue since the Galaxy have a lot of men in the defensive third. But what looks like a 7-on-3 is really closer to a 4-on-3, with only one defender marking Patrick Mullins and Teal Bunbury at the top of the box and two players on Fagundez. Three other Galaxy players are trailing the play, including midfielder Kenney Walker (#34) who probably should've tracked Bunbury's inside run, allowing Fagundez to cross in Bunbury and draw a penalty and a red card.
This goal is something that happened against LA's second string pairing of center backs, Tommy Meyer and Leonardo, and while the counter attack was good and Fagundez and Mullins did well to pull the two centerbacks out of position, doing this against Omar Gonzalez and A.J. DeLaGarza is another. DeLaGarza happened to be playing leftback back in July and I think he's the Galaxy defender caught upfield, leading to the defensive line over-committing.
And while it will likely be Charlie Davies up front and Bunbury on the right wing, the goal for the Revs attack is still the same, get out on the break and create chances. And the Revs are as good as anyone in MLS on the counter attack, and while I'd like to say beating the second team centerbacks is impressive, I also watched Leonardo in LA's second leg against the Seattle Sounders.
So maybe there's a half positive for each team to take away from this game, I'll give Robbie Keane's opener half-credit for hitting the open three from downtown but you expect him to do that. Aside from that, it's just a lowlight reel of the Galaxy punishing Revolution mistakes. Hopefully, mistakes that can be corrected.