In eight tireless seasons with the Revolution, Chris Tierney has quietly flown under the radar. Even after scoring a resounding equalizer in the 79th minute of MLS Cup 2014, the purposeful left back has failed to enter the national conversation, continually serving as the club's best kept secret.
Yet this time around, Tierney looks poised to earn league-wide recognition--seven seasons after collecting his first assist.
Through the first six weeks of the season, Tierney, who missed Saturday's 0-0 draw with Columbus Crew SC after sustaining an ankle injury, has benefited the attack with consistently-flawless service. During a March 28 showdown with San Jose, Kelyn Rowe finally took advantage of Tierney's crossing abilities, arriving on the end of a deflected free kick to give his club a 2-0 advantage. With a steady left foot, Tierney curled in a daunting cross, finding an extended Darrius Barnes' with stunning precision. Rowe took care of the rest.
At first glance, Tierney's set-piece assist serves as his only meaningful stat of the season. But a deeper look reveals a more valuable truth: Tierney has driven the Revolution attack through the first stretch of 2015.
In five matches, the Wellesley, Mass. native has strung together 10 key passes (passes that lead to a goal-scoring opportunity but do not result in a goal), or two key passes per match. His counterparts--Kevin Alston, Darrius Barnes, Jeremy Hall--have combined for two key passes in 749 minutes of play. In essence, Tierney creates two goal-scoring opportunities per match--twice the rate of Daigo Kobayashi, the team's next closest player.
Key passes per match: field players who have contributed 90 minutes or more (scroll right to view the complete chart).
While many of these key passes arrive from the flank, where Tierney hits 2.2 crosses per match (Jeremy Hall, 1.0 and Kelyn Rowe, 0.7 trail behind), he has also found the space to push forward and create on the ground. During the March 28 match against San Jose, Tierney created a turnover with an assertive challenge, dribbled forward and played Charlie Davies down the left channel. Davies went one-on-one with David Bingham, but lost his battle with the 'Quakes keeper, spoiling a close-range opportunity.
On Saturday, when the Revolution welcomed rival Crew SC to Foxboro, Tierney begrudgingly watched as Kevin Alston filled his familiar left-back position. Though Alston turned in a strong match, he failed to deliver a key pass--or create a goal-scoring opportunity--out of the back. In fact, the Revolution only connected on three key passes combined, battling the wind for 90 minutes on the way to a scoreless draw. Without question, the club missed Tierney's distribution, both on set pieces and down the left side of the field.
In many ways, Tierney has made up for Lee Nguyen's early-season deficiencies. Nguyen, the Revs' creative engine, has yet to find his 2014 form, when he connected on 2.1 key passes per match en route to an MVP-caliber season. Of course, Nguyen plays in a much different role--and benefits from a much different skillset--though his ability to wreak havoc in front of goal led the Revs to a second-place finish last season. Tierney has simply picked up the slack, creating goal-scoring opportunities with the stroke of his golden left foot.
If the Revolution frontunners begin to finish these opportunities, and support Tierney's rigorous work down the left flank, the club legend will quickly enter the national conversation. In year nine, he deserves recognition.