So much for the early-game jitters.
Unlike in Part One of the Revolution-Red Bulls 2012 trilogy, Jay Heaps’ squad played like a confident bunch that wasn’t going to be bullied (pardon the pun) around in Part Deux. They created chances. They capitalized on those chances. And they did it in front of their home fans.
Maybe it had to with the notable absence of Thierry Henry. Maybe it’s because they hadn’t lost since May. Or maybe, just maybe, it’s because Sunday was Diego Fagundez bobblehead night.
We may never know. But here are five things we think we know.
1. Dont look now, but it looks like A.J. Soares got his swag back. After a pair of rough outings during the last two weeks, the second-year center back re-established himself as the anchor the back four on Sunday. Surrounded by the rest of his fellow first-choice defenders, Soares played like a boss. He dismantled Medhi Ballouchy (zero shots) and helped keep Kenny Cooper getting any dangerous shots. Yes, his night may have been made easier by Henry’s absence. But it’s also worth noting that he was operating in front of second-string keeper Bobby Shuttleworth, which could’ve opened up a can of communication issues. In the end, however, there was no question that the real A.J. Soares was back.
2. Bobby Shuttleworth just took a big step in inheriting the starting keeper’s role. Speaking of the former Austin Aztex (with an “X” – don’t get it twisted!) keeper, it was a good night for Shuttleworth to get his
first second career MLS clean sheet. With a first-choice back four in front of him, the Red Bulls were effectively neutralized before they came within an earshot of goal. Now, that’s not to say Shuttleworth didn’t do much to earn the shutout. By no means. He commanded his box on the eight corners New York sent in his direction. He was vocal. And, of course, he launched moonshots on his goal kicks. But, while it may have been a memorable evening between the sticks, his performance may have just put enough confidence in his coach to hand him the keys to the starting job sooner rather than later.
3. It doesn’t matter how Jerry Bengtson scores them, an ugly goal is still a goal. Some people lament the ugly goal. The one scored from a fortuitous rebound. The one many attribute to luck rather than skill. The one that any decent U-6 striker could score. You get it: the garbage goal. And guess what? Heaps expects Bengtson to score a lot of those kinds of goals. But that isn’t bad thing. Why? Because Saer Sene is good for at 2-5 shots a game, many of which are initially denied on the doorstep. And for the 15 games prior to Sunday, the Revolution didn’t have someone there to pounce on them. Now, they do. And while Bengtson may not score Lee Nguyen Lasers, there’s something to be said about the Bengtson’s positioning – not to be confused with luck – that may just make him the perfect compliment to Sene.
4. Something’s up when Benny Feilhaber gets subbed out for Shalrie Joseph. There are three certainties in life: death, taxes and the Jay Heaps late-game attacking sub. And up until last night, that statement held true. But when Heaps gave Feilhaber the hook in the 73rd minute for Shalrie Joseph, something must have been off kilter. Heaps didn’t speak about it in the post-game presser, but it was fairly obvious #22 didn’t agree with the sub. And while we shouldn’t be surprised by that, we should be surprised by the fact that Joseph wasn’t exactly the freshest legs Heaps on the bench. Was it intended to be a message? Feilhaber didn’t have a strong night. In fact, he had one of his quietest nights of the season (60 touches). Then again, maybe Heaps simply wanted some added backbone in the midfield with the Red Bulls tipping the possession heavily in their favor late. But one thing’s for sure: there were more than a few single-arched eyebrows when the Feilhaber-for-Joseph sub was made.
5. If you heard crickets at any point during Sunday’s game, they probably came from the right flank. For the second straight game, the Revolution attack was largely left-sided. This, of course, isn’t necessarily a bad thing – especially when the left-sided midfielder scores the first goal of the game from distance. But it is troubling to see that the most effective attacker along the right was Kevin Alston. Now, that’s not a knock on Alston. It’s no secret he’s never shy to take it into the attacking third. And he certainly added what he could in his first night back from a hamstring injury. But did anyone see Kelyn Rowe? The game reports allege he went 89 minutes. Chalkboard claims he had 30 touches, nine successful passes and seven giveaways. Pictures of him playing in last night’s game have been posted. But did anyone notice him? Anyone?