The New England Revolution, much like any other team in MLS, are adept at adjusting to situations and predicaments as they arise. But when managers such as Jay Heaps deliberate over any changes, they’re often thinking of protecting a lead or searching for a way back into a match.
However, a much different problem came across the Revs in Saturday’s 1-1 draw with D.C. United. Within a span of six minutes, Chris Tierney and Lee Nguyen had both justifiably been shown red cards by Mark Geiger and the home side was forced to see out the remainder of the game with nine men on the field.
As expressed by Revs players and Heaps alike, that isn’t really an adjustment that you can prepare for.
"You practice being down [to] 10 men," Heaps said after the game. "I’ve got to be honest with you, we don’t practice being down nine men. But we just had a 35-minute session, so we’re alright. It’s a hard situation, I think we even had moments to get another goal, but at the same time had to be smart."
First and foremost, the Revs had to make several tactical changes. Their usual 4-2-3-1 hybrid formation quickly became a 4-3-1, in which the four-man back line was secured, three midfield players were tasked with running their tails off, and the lone striker caused as much havoc and pressure as he could.
On top of the tactical alterations, Heaps’ substitution hand was forced into play probably earlier than he would have liked. Kevin Alston, Kelyn Rowe, and Sean Okoli all entered the match at varying points after Tierney and Nguyen were sent off and each sub had a different motivation behind it.
"At that point you have to sacrifice something, so Juan came out and we wanted to be solid with Kevin coming in so we could keep a back four," Heaps said. "The next sub was freshness. I thought Kelyn was going to be fresh coming in to at least do what Scotty [Caldwell] was doing - they had to cover a lot of ground doing 50 yard sprints every time the ball was switched.
"And then Sean coming in at the end was a like for like sub with Teal that gave us a little bit of size up there, a little bit of power, and a little bit of strength and speed. They had to worry about him."
The insertions of Alston, Rowe, and Okoli all paid major dividends, as the outside back contained numerous threats down his left flank, Rowe tirelessly pressured the ball, and Okoli became as much of a nuisance as he could up top.
Most importantly though, and outside of any pure soccer adjustments, the Revs looked inwards for extra drive and motivation. Leaders such as Jermaine Jones and Jose Goncalves remained on the field, everyone dug deep and emptied their tanks, and each player sacrificed for each other.
"A lot of it is mental, just trying to push through," Caldwell said after the match. "Within a minute Jermaine had won a hard 50/50 ball and that kinda got everyone going, knowing we could still make it through this game. Unfortunately we couldn’t hold the lead, but keeping it 1-1 was okay."
Simply, there may have been a numerical disadvantage for the Revs, but they didn’t allow that to stop them. If anything they fought harder after the two ejections and leaned on one another to test D.C. and preserve the result.
"It was one of the best efforts I’ve seen from our team since I’ve been here and it felt good to be on the field with the guys giving their all," Andrew Farrell said in the locker room post-game. "It was impressive with Jermaine and Scotty, when Kelyn came in, Teal, they were going hard so I was like ‘Hey we’re all in this together. Strap it up and let’s go’".