Prior to this weekend's contest against the San Jose Earthquakes, the New England Revolution had allowed a dismal five goals through three games. To be frank, a goals against record like that is not good enough for a team that aspires to challenge for the Eastern Conference title, the Supporters Shield, and MLS Cup.
Keenly aware of that, Jay Heaps sent his team out in a high pressure system that also saw the back four deploy a line of confrontation that was closer to its own 18-yard-box than the halfway line. That combination led to the Earthquakes mustering only four shots on target all game - one of which was a penalty kick goal from Chris Wondolowski - and a returned sense of calm and order to the defensive third.
There were a couple reasons for the much improved performance and you can catch them just after the jump.
1.) Back-Line Interventions: When your team allows five goals through three games the guiding reasons for it tend to be a lack of communication and poor shape. Both of those factors were at play in the Revs' first three games and it was clear that changes need to be made.
Partly due to injury and happenstance, Heaps sent out a back-four of Chris Tierney, Jose Goncalves, Andrew Farrell, and Darrius Barnes this past weekend. The quartet offered cohesion that had been missing in recent weeks and the aforementioned issues quickly became a forethought.
They stymied Wondolowski, Matias Perez Garcia, and Innocent Emeghara and allowed Bobby Shuttleworth's afternoon to be far easier. The below image shows exactly why all of that was accomplished.
The triangles read as follows: orange indicates recoveries, purple reads as clearances, and green means tackles. While there is a cluster of them in and around the penalty area, the back-four managed to counter the Earthquakes' surges in places on the field that limited damage.
In prior weeks, the Revs were forced into a lot of emergency defending in which people like Goncalves and Farrell were dependent on their athleticism to put out fires. However, this past weekend those events largely vanished and the Revs were able to make defensive confrontations in far safer areas.
2.) Midfield Swarms: As crucial as the back-four was in limiting the Earthquakes' attacks, the team's midfield triumvirate was just as important. Lee Nguyen, Daigo Kobayashi, and Scott Caldwell played San Jose's midfield trio of J.J. Koval, Jean-Baptiste Pierazzi, and Garcia off the field. Aside from talent and athleticism, the Revs' midfield gave San Jose's no chance to breathe and swarmed them as soon as they got the ball.
This high-pressure style resulted in many occasions where San Jose's midfield was either forced into bad passes, was dispossessed, or just flat out made a bad play. In turn, that led to plenty of times of where the ball was loose in the center of the park and it was anybody's to claim.
The above image shows all of the recoveries made by Caldwell, Nguyen, and Kobayashi. They simply were all over San Jose and more often than not got the ball back for New England.
By making the most of these types of opportunities the Revs were able to spark their patented counter-attacks and relieve defensive pressure. Simply a masterclass performance by the Revs' midfield, which deserves many plaudits for their defensive play.