New England Soccer Today

Five Things We Learned: Revolution vs. Toronto FC

Referee Hilario Grajeda had his hands full during much of Saturday’s 1-0 Revolution loss to Toronto FC. (Photo: Kari Heistad)

In hindsight, it was easy to be duped by the Revolution during the last six weeks.

Beginning with the 2-0 win to Chicago on Jun. 2, the local XI remained unbeaten for five straight games. Five games. Five results. Granted, it wasn’t five wins. And, OK, maybe three of those five were draws.

But the way in which they grabbed last-second equalizers at Toronto and against Seattle at home opened the door to belief. Belief that the Revolution had turned a corner. They were ready to contend. And a shutout win over New York only bolstered that belief. The New Look Revolution were better than the sixth spot they occupied prior to Saturday’s game.

Then, reality punched them square in the nose.

Toronto may have scored early, but the entire 90 only served as a reminder that the Revolution have a ways to go before belief and reality meet. No question the Revolution have made improvements. But improving and contending are not identical concepts. And Saturday proved it.

So what else did we learn from the end of the Revolution’s five-game unbeaten streak?

1. The Revolution fell into the same trap that Columbus set for them four weeks ago. Credit Paul Mariner for putting together game plan that successfully flustered the Revolution. It worked to perfection. But it wasn’t an original idea. Four weeks ago, Columbus employed a nearly identical plan against the Revolution. The major component, of course, was sitting back and playing for the counter. But the agenda also entailed some judicious hacking, which served as a double-whammy to the Revolution’s chances. First, it disrupted the flow of the game. And boy do the Revolution hate that. They need a free-flowing game to keep the engine running. Second, it forced the Revolution to beat the Reds via the set piece. And when you make the Revolution beat you via the set piece? Check. Mate.

2. In tandem with the above, the Revolution aren’t mature enough to beat a team that employs negative football. It had to be frustrating for Jay Heaps to watch. After falling into an early hole, the Revolution moved the ball well in the defending and middle thirds. They made in-game adjustments, with Saer Sene bouncing between striker and outside midfielder. Shalrie Joseph picked his spots going forward. And it all looked very promising – until you consider that it played right into Toronto’s hands. By dropping numbers – especially after Danny Koevermans left with an injury in the 41st minute – the guests were all to happy to absorb the pressure. Despite having the ball nearly twice as much the Toronto, the Revolution mustered the same number of shots – four – on target as their adversary. The reason? The Revolution, a team that didn’t start a single player over the age of 30 on Saturday, simply lack the savvy to pick the lock on the parked bus. And they’ll eventually figure it out. But it won’t happen overnight.

3. The solution to the set piece woes doesn’t currently reside on the roster. Through the first four months of the season, the Revolution have enlisted a number of ways to address their set piece problems, both offensively and defensively. They’ve rotated both corner kick and free kick duties. They’ve wheeled in the dummy wall in practice. And it’s almost a forgone conclusion that Jay Heaps has pored over hours of video trying to figure out what the heck is going on out there.  But despite all that, here we are: 18 games in, and the Revolution have scored exactly one goal from the set piece. One. Yes, their form on defensive set pieces has improved somewhat. But given 13 corner kicks – including 11 in the second half alone – along with a series of free kicks in the final third, the Revolution couldn’t muster a response. Not one. Not even half-of-one (unless, of course, you live in a fantasy world where unicorns and Shalrie Joseph handball goals are both legit). Heaps knows the problem exists. But by now, it’s time to concede that the remedy doesn’t reside in Foxboro.

4. Possession, once again, proves to be a terribly misleading stat. Last week, the Revolution beat the Red Bulls 2-0 with only 38.5% possession.  On Saturday, the Revolution fell to Toronto despite a 65.4% rate. So many people talk possession like it’s the most important stat in soccer. Mind you, there is some obvious benefit to holding the ball longer than the other team. Obviously, scoring becomes easier if you have the ball. But, there are simply too many outside variables to call it the wonder-stat. In Toronto’s case, their style is predicated on conceding possession and scoring from the counter. And, to their credit, it’s worked fairly well in recent weeks. Same goes for Columbus and Chicago as well, albeit in less obvious ways. In short, possession is just one of many stats. Nothing more, and nothing less.

5. Matt Reis should be worried by Bobby Shuttleworth getting a second straight start. Last week, Heaps said he gave Shuttleworth the goalkeeping reins to give Reis a rest. Then, after Wednesday’s training, he acknowledged that the backup got the start because of Shuttleworth’s ability to snuff out crosses. And by sending out Shuttleworth for a second straight week instead of a presumably healthy Reis, we may be witnessing something more than just a goalkeeper controversy. In fact, there may be no controversy at all. What could be unfolding in front of us is the changing of the guard between the sticks.

4 Comments

  1. Paul

    July 16, 2012 at 5:48 pm

    We also learned one very important thing that our captain Shalrie can not play @CB because he is way so slow and he simply got beat very easy. I think he is best as a backup midfielder.

  2. Brian O'Connell

    July 16, 2012 at 6:00 pm

    @Paul,
    I give Shalrie a pass for Saturday because he really came in cold. Silva’s goal cames two minutes after he entered the game – and a game in which he probably wasn’t going to see the field until the second half. So I think that has to be considered. That said, he certainly didn’t look like a CB for extended sequences in which he was essentially playing as a third central midfielder. Can’t say I’ve seen many CBs make the same number of runs forward as Shalrie did against Toronto!

  3. rick sewall

    July 16, 2012 at 9:20 pm

    Sharlie is not the player he was five years ago. The turf is tough on him, and he has to learn to play like Scott Parker of Tottenham , running as little as possible.

  4. Kari Heistad (@TravelingCEO)

    July 17, 2012 at 7:36 pm

    It was interesting to read Shalrie’s story in the game day magazine where he talked about not being able to play like he did 5 years ago so I think he is well aware of that. I also give him a pass on the goal as they were still scrambling with him coming in so abruptly. He does love to get forward. Natural tendency I think it would be hard to fight.

    What I am curious about is the Bobby-Matt scenario. I will be really curious to see who starts against Montreal.

    Might we have the fantasy that Imbongo knows how to take set pieces?

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