New England's signature summer slump started right out of the gate this year as they took an absolute pounding from the Houston Dynamo in their very first game of the season. It was an ugly 4-0 loss that both club and fans will try to forget as quickly as possible. Not only was it the Revs' worst home-opener in history, but it came on the heels of their most successful season since 2009. So, what the heck went wrong? Here's some thoughts...
1. Lessons Learned? Since Jay Heaps took over, the Revs have been consistently doomed by "slow starts" to games. This match was a textbook example of that, which leads one to wonder if those demons have still yet to be exorcised. When Will Bruin scored within 2 minutes, New England already looked beaten. 2014 needs to be the season that the Revs learn to overcome early deficits and dig out a win, something they did only twice in 2013.
2. Where's The D? If memory serves, New England's defense lead the league in shutouts and pure dominance through the first half of last season. But on Saturday in Houston, that defense just simply didn't show up. Both Chris Tierney and Jose Goncalves came into this game with question marks after appearing on the injury report earlier in the week. In hindsight, should they have been rested for this match? Both players looked a bit slower than we're used to seeing, particularly Tierney who was burned at least twice by the Dynamo leading to goals. Goncalves' uncharacteristic poor judgement had a direct effect on a Dynamo goal as well. As for the others, well, giving up 4 goals is all you need to know. The only times they let that happen last year were the two games in which they went down a man. Something is not clicking, and it needs to be adressed ASAP.
3. Starting XI In Doubt. Save for a few injuries, this was likely Jay Heaps' preferred starting XI heading out of preseason. But considering the way the match played out, one could argue that not a single player in that starting lineup has their spot assured come next Saturday. This may be true for none more so than Bobby Shuttleworth, who is already entering the 2014 season in direct competition with Brad Knighton for the starting job between the sticks. After the massacre this past Saturday in Houston, it seems safe to assume that Knighton's chance will come next Saturday against the Philadephia Union, opening up the goal-keeping battle much earlier than many might have expected.
4. Go Diego Go. I'd propose that the exception to my previous thought about no starting spot being safe is Diego Fagundez, who was arguably the lone bright spot for the Revs on an otherwise dreadful day for the squad. Per Heaps, Fagundez's number one priority for 2014 was to find a way to become more involved during the run of play. Against the Dynamo, Fagundez was constantly involved--igniting counter attacks, setting up teammates, and coming inches away from putting the Revs on the scoreboard on at least two occasions. It will be considered a match to forget for New England, but Diego would do well to remember the positive affect his involvement had throughout the 90 minutes.
5. Caldwell's Spot On The Line. For all the plaudits that Scott Caldwell earned last season, he started off 2014 in the worst way possible. His decision to try to play the ball out of the defensive third instead of simply clearing it out directly led to Houston's 2nd goal of the game. On several other occasions Caldwell was out-muscled in the middle of the pitch--something we're not unfamiliar with seeing--and the result was catastrophic. The Revs talked this offseason about wanting to bring in some "steel" to the midfield, and this match should serve as a perfect example of why that's still a vital priority to address for this squad. Perhaps next Saturday's match against the Union would be a fitting opportunity to give Andy Dorman or Alec Sundly their chance.
6. Missing Lee. Despite the scoreline, the Revs were able to put together some pretty good attacks on Saturday. But there were a handful of times that the final pass was still missing. Turnovers in the final third killed more than a few offensive opportunities and they can surely be blamed (or at least partially) for Teal Bunbury's general lack of involvement throughout the match. No one in the Revs' attacking quintet is really exempt from this, but perhaps Lee Nguyen was missed more than we thought heading into the game. Daigo Kobayashi filled Nguyen's role adequately, but it seemed clear that the Revs were frustrated without their midfield general keeping the ball and dictating the pace of the game as he usually does. The sooner Nguyen can return from his injury the better, because this team clearly needed him on Saturday.