New England Soccer Today

Midfield Letdown

Lee Nguyen struggled to make a impact against Sporting Kansas City’s physical defending. (Photo: Chris Aduama/

Let’s be honest with one another: the Shalrie Joseph trade to Chivas USA had nothing to do with the New England Revolution’s 1-0 loss to Sporting Kansas City. This loss was about New England’s poor play through the midfield, though. But it’s been poor through this five game winless streak for the Revolution and there is nothing Joseph could have done, or did do before he was traded.

This game was lost because New England couldn’t find its footing in the midfield and because of one progression of poor mistakes that lead to Kansas City Teal Bunbury breaking in on goal alone with Revs’ goalkeeper Matt Reis on an island with no way off.

“It was a poor throw-in to a poor touch to a poor pass to a poor defensive play to nothing Matt Reis could do,” said head coach Jay Heaps. “It was just one of those plays where it was a bad decision to where the throw-in was made, to where it went, and unfortunately we’ve been punished all year for our mistakes and that’s exactly what happened tonight.”

New England should have rebounded from the mistake, though. The Revs pushed higher up the field and enjoyed more possession (54 percent for the game), but Sporting Kansas did something it’s done all year when pressed with playing a team that overloads the midfield: it fouls skill players. Jason Kreis, coach of Real Salt Lake, took exception to Sporting’s tactics when the two teams met earlier in the year.

“I think that it’s an overly physical style,” Kreis told Salt Lake-based ESPN700 Sports Radio on April 17. “I think that it relies on being a very disruptive game. There’s not much rhythm to any game that you watch that they play in.”

There was little rhythm in the game with Kansas City’s 21 fouls — New England had 12 of its own. But it was effective. New England’s skill players, Lee Nguyen, Saer Sene and Benny Feilhaber were unable to get into the game and impose their will on the play through the midfield because of the physical play of the likes of center back Matt Besler and midfielder Julio Cesar.

Yes, Joseph would have helped in the physical play department, but his presence wouldn’t have changed the way the game worked out. New England barely put a chance on goal. This team is built around knocking the ball around and taking on defenders on the dribble. New England rarely did either after it got frustrated with the rough treatment. Instead, New England’s defenders started launching aimless long balls up the field to no one in particular. The game was lost when the Revs decided to try and play over its midfield — this team is built around solid movement through the middle and quick passing not lofted balls over the top.

Moving Forward by Going Backwards

New England has played its best when it’s front four have worked as a unit, pressing high on the wings and interchanging position freely. The impressive win against the Los Angeles Galaxy feels like ages ago. Teams like Kansas City have figured out that New England wants to put the ball on the ground and work quickly, so they’ve decided to slow the game down anyway they can.

The New York Red Bulls pressed high on New England’s full backs and forced them to kick it long. Real Salt Lake dominated possession. The Columbus Crew and Houston Dynamo packed the midfield and squeezed the game. Toronto FC soaked up pressure and fouled. New England has allowed all these teams to do that.

If Heaps and the Revolution want to push on for a playoff spot, or just a solid finish to the season, then the team needs to begin to impose its will on opponents rather than allow them to set the tempo. Against a team like Kansas City, defenders need to cycle the ball back and forth and be patient — Matt Reis needs to be part of this too and work the ball quickly out of the back.

Moving the ball quickly and possessing it takes the air out of a team that wants to play physical and on the counter. New England has the players to take the air out of a game by holding onto the ball and waiting for its chance. It just needs to realize that the opponent is going to put a few whacks on them, it’s part of the game, and the players need to get over it. There are 90-plus minutes in a game, and not everyone one of them can be a stroll in the park. Sometimes you just need to take the hits and keep on moving.


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