New England Soccer Today

Five Things We Learned: Revolution vs. Timbers

Midfielder Lee Nguyen kept the Portland back four busy with a number of runs into space during the Revolution's 1-0 victory on Saturday (Photo: Chris Aduama/

Saturday’s surprising 1-0 victory over the formerly-unbeaten Portland Timbers delivered Jay Heaps his first win as an MLS coach. Granted, the Revolution wasn’t at its best – it completed less than 70% of its passes – for lengthy stretches. But, when called upon – whether it was Matt Reis stopping a Franck Sango’o rocket or Saer Sene knocking it through 28 seconds into the game – New England did just enough to steal three points from Portland and get back into the win column for the first time since Sept. 10.

Now, with the first win of the 2012 season in the books, we analyze five things we learned from Saturday’s 1-0 win.

1. Shalrie Joseph’s future is at center back – whether it’s later this season or in coming seasons. Few will debate that the skipper put in a pair of poor performances at San Jose and Kansas City in the last two weeks. But on Saturday, he was a player reborn at central defender. Go figure.  Whether it was battling Kris Boyd – who may have done Joseph a favor or three with his faltering finishes – or coming to the rescue of Matt Reis, the stalwart midfielder performed like a seasoned central midfielder. Yes, number 21 may still be needed in the middle of the park. But Joseph is not getting any younger, as evidenced by the road losses, and a full-time switch to central defender may be the best move for both parties.

2. The Kelyn Rowe we saw in the preseason is the Kelyn Rowe of 2013. But for now, he still has growing pains to endure. The current version of the third overall pick has looked visibly slower than his preseason self. And it’s easy to see why. Against second selection elevens and college teams, Rowe was a world-beater. A shoe in for 2012 Rookie of Year. Big things were predicted for the former UCLA playmaker. But in his first three games, one constant has remained: Rowe hasn’t adjusted to the speed of the professional game. The latest example came in the 42nd minute when Sene played it through to the rookie midfielder, who appeared much too casual alone in the box before Eric Brunner and Troy Perkins closed the window shut before Rowe could fire a shot.

3. If you need visual evidence that the 2011 season is dead and buried, press play and watch Saturday’s game all over again. Sene’s goal 28 seconds into the game was both a blessing and curse. A blessing for the obvious reasons. But it was a curse in the sense that the Revolution seemed to play at their worst with a lead last season. It was more than just holding on for 10 minutes, 20 minutes or the entire second half. Like Katniss in the Hunger Games, New England was the hunted seconds from the start and had to withstand the efforts of Kris Boyd, Khalif Alhassan and Darlington Nagbe, all of whom were ready to put an end to the thought of a Revolution victory. They nearly succeeded – but “nearly” wasn’t enough. In the end, the Revolution accomplished something on Saturday they failed at miserably last season: they survived.

4. On Friday, Jay Heaps emphasized that attacking wisely – i.e. advancing the ball without leaving gaps behind – would be the key to staying with Portland. Post-script: Jay Heaps was right. If you think about it, the Revolution had no right to claim three points going into the Portland game. None. Not with a makeshift defense, not without Joseph in the middle and not without Benny Feilhaber at all. But there was one noticeable development that put the Revolution in a favorable position to get the “W” after Sene’s sudden goal: cover in transition. The New England eleven, as a unit, cut off passing channels and tightened up in transition particularly well against Portland. Granted, Alhassan, Nagbe and Eric Alexander may have found space along the flanks. The Revolution wasn’t perfect, but Saturday showed that they’re getting better in transition.

5. Lee Nguyen is quickly proving to be the steal of the offseason. It’s amazing how talented players can fall right into a team’s lap. Last year, it was Benny Feilhaber. This year, it’s Nguyen, who initially looked like your run-of-the-mill flier signing. After all, if he couldn’t cut it with Vancouver – the worst team in MLS last season – what was he going to do better in New England? Well, so far, all he’s done is become a one-man attacking force. And on Saturday, out on the left, he displayed the vision of a number 10, connected with his forwards (he completed 23 passes – highest among Revolution midfielders), and – get this – he provided cover for Tierney when Alhassan threatened. If Nguyen continues to perform at or above the level we saw against Portland, he may prove to be one of the most valuable signings in recent memory.


  1. Ben Saufley

    March 26, 2012 at 11:13 am

    You say “few will argue,” but you’re arguing it yourself. I think you mean “few will debate.” Few will debate that Shalrie had a great game on Saturday, but I might argue that he played decently in KC too – though we didn’t see him much before he fell to center back, for which you’re praising him.

    A thought, though: wasn’t Shalrie the one who had that awful back-pass inside the six last year, surrounded by opposing players, that ended up in a goal? I can’t remember the game, but I feel like that was him – not clearing it when he had it, surrounded in the box. I’m just saying – he had a great game Saturday, but if he ever gets as leaky at CB as he was in San Jose, it could be even more costly than it was when he was in the midfield.

    Other thoughts: the through-pass from Sène to Rowe was disappointing to not see completed, but I still think Rowe did well to hang onto the ball with what I recall was a sliding tackle from behind inside the box. It was a shame not to see him finish it – you could see how disappointed he was. Also, I’m enjoying Nguyen, but I guess I’m not as surprised as others by this – he was a big deal when he came back to MLS, and of course it was great luck to pick him up. But the surprise for me has been Clyde Simms. He’s just been immensely, if quietly, useful, and I keep noticing him at both ends of the field.

    • Brian O'Connell

      March 26, 2012 at 12:03 pm

      Thanks for catching that, Ben. I’ve since fixed it.

      My thought on Shalrie is this: he seems a lot more disciplined at center back, no? I feel like the freelancing nature of his central midfielder’s role opens the door to poor decision making. In the role of central defender, his responsibilities are narrowed greatly – which I think makes him a more focused player.

  2. Chris B

    March 26, 2012 at 6:44 pm

    I’m just not sold on Shalrie as a full time CB. Let’s give Lozano a chance as we’ve only seen him once so far this season and we should also give McCarthy a chance there. Sharlie has always been a great central defensive midfielder in MLS and he will continue to do so. I believe he would’ve done well in center midfield this game if we had another CB available. In midfield, once he, Clyde, Benny, Keyln, Nguyen, etc all get on the same page (they are close) he will do well and will get himself in his classic scoring opportunities. Speaking of Simms, I agree with Ben, I really like what I’ve seen so far, was he this good for DC?

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