The Revolution have a brutal week coming up, traveling to Sporting Kansas City midweek followed by hosting DC United on Saturday. So Jay Heaps subbing off Juan Agudelo, Jermaine Jones and Charlie Davies to give three of your hardest working players a breather last week against Toronto to prepare for the road ahead is a fine idea on paper. However, there are two sides to this coin:
This is the difference between playing in Foxboro in November, and playing in Los Angeles. Points dropped at home. #NERevs— Matty Jollie (@MattyJollie) May 17, 2015
Would I like to have three points in the bag against a likely playoff team in Toronto FC? Yes I would, especially at home, and with six teams making the playoffs in each conference you'd expect TFC to actually qualify this year. Last week's draw isn't the worst, but for a game the Revs largely dominated, you'd like to have three points to show for your effort. And starting a difficult stretch in your schedule with a win takes the pressure off to win points in the upcoming fixtures.
To give the Revs credit, they did have leads against both Orlando City and Toronto FC in the second half, and while they only managed draws in both games they can learn from both situations. Against Orlando, the Revs decided to sit back and absorb pressure and everyone in New England knows how that usually goes. The Revs were fortunate to snatch a second goal before succumbing to the onslaught of crosses that lead to Aurelien Collin's equalizer.
Why the Revs ever decide that sitting back is a good idea at this point is beyond me. Orlando's possession game should not give New England that much trouble even if the Lions spent most of their time building from the back. The Revs are one of, if not the best, team in the league at creating turnovers and then creating chances on the break. While Kelyn Rowe's second goal of that game is not the best example, that's something this team should still be capable of on a regular basis
The lesson here, even on the road, is that the Revs need to be an attacking team first. They aren't incapable of dealing with pressure, but at times were to content to allow Orlando to build from the back and didn't pressure the ball enough. Eventually, all the scrambling at the back is going to stop working when Orlando's sending in thirty (yes, 30) crosses. Jermaine Jones is a pretty good center back, but he's not a natural ball winner in the air like Jose Goncalves is and this part of the Revs downfall in Orlando. But mostly, it was a general lack of their usual aggressive style to get forward, either on the counter attack or by maintaining a high line of pressure to win back the ball.
Against Toronto, this was a much different story, as the Revs were on the front foot most of the game. TFC was content to sit back and counter with numbers and the Revs, Andrew Farrell in particular, were able to shut down these chances. This is a style, regardless of home or away, that the Revs need to maintain as much as possible. Gone are the days when the Revs struggles to generate chances out of normal possession. London Woodberry's service as well as Scott Caldwell's breakout early season have changed a mostly counter attacking team that was lethal on the break into a well-balanced, tactical nightmare for MLS.
Aside from a spell to begin the second half where Michael Bradley went all 2011 USMNT on the Revs, I thought the Revs did well throughout the game. The Revs largely dominated possession and peppered Chris Konopka's goal forcing him to make seven saves as well as come off his line routinely. Woodberry has been a revelation at right back with his second assist in three games and the Agudelo-Davies-Bunbury line has been solid at creating chances.
Mostly due to Konopka's Team of the Week effort in goal, rightly deserved I'd say, the Revs never found that winning goal. Which is perhaps just a frustrating as letting a 2-0 lead slip away as playing more than well enough to win, and being forced to settle for a draw. But unlike the Orlando game, I can take away far more positives from the Revs overall effort against Toronto.
New England was aggressive, ran into a standing-on-his-head-keeper and a 5'8'' winger in Diego Fagundez almost went target center forward with a close range headed winner in the dying moments of the game. I'm sure Diego's scored a few times with his head, but probably not like that. But in the end it was just another close call for Konopka in TFC, who immediately left Gillette and headed to the airport with their point.
The MLS regular season is a long, rigorous process and managing minutes and injuries throughout the summer months of international call ups is not a task I'd like to have. But this is a team that should have the depth and the talent to compete every week despite changes to the weekly gameday lineups and rosters. With two key games, tonight against Sporting Kansas City and this weekend against D.C. United, there are a lot of ways Jay Heaps manage his side.
Obviously, the DC game is more important to the Eastern Conference standings. Heaps can certainly start players like Diego Fagundez, Kelyn Rowe and Kevin Alston to give regular starters a breather ahead of such a key matchup. I wouldn't even mind the Revs playing for a draw in SKC given the circumstances, or even an loss with a more secondary lineup. It's even hard to call a lineup with Fagundez, Rowe, Alston, Daigo Kobayashi and Steve Neumann a "second string" because they were so vital to the Revs playoff run last year. If given the chance, anyone who starts against SKC will do their best no matter what.
But with the Revs in the middle of an eight game unbeaten run, keeping that momentum could be a good thing going into a game against DC. The team is playing well, getting positive results and maybe a loss and giving a few of the regular substitutes a few starts could hurt in the short term with a big match looming in just a few days. There's no right or wrong answer here, and with SKC struggling with injuries, a midweek road win is a big thing. Especially against Benny Feilhaber Flowers.
But win, lose or draw at Kansas City, and hopefully win against DC, the biggest thing the Revs need to take away from these last two draws is to stay aggressive. No matter who's on the field for the Revs this is a team that generally does not play well sitting back. The last two Revolution games felt like losses but for very different reasons and as Matty tweeted about earlier, dropping points in May won't keep you out of the playoffs.
But it will prevent you from hosting the MLS Cup Final.