New England Soccer Today

The Midfield General

Shalrie Joseph helped tilt the midfield battle on Wednesday. (Photo: Kari Heistad/

For 21 minutes, the New England Revolution played and looked like the team  Jay Heaps envisioned. New England pressed. It attacked. The ball moved quickly and players whipped in early crosses. Three goals lit up the scoreboard and Chivas USA, partially because of its own mistakes, looked like it was playing in a lower league. This was partly because New England came out pressing for goals and partly because Chivas USA allowed three goals on three mistakes.

“In the beginning, things weren’t urgent enough and too many balls were bouncing around in our end of the field and we didn’t deal with them with enough urgency,” said Chivas Coach Robin Fraser after the game about his team’s inability to get into the game early.

New England passed by Chivas midfield for the opening minutes of the game. Set up in what looked like a 4-1-4-1, the Goats were overrun through the midfield because its four behind Casey Townsend were too far away from the one man protecting the backline, Shalrie Joseph. New England didn’t wait to attack one of Major League Soccer’s struggling defenses — Chivas allowed 11 goals in the three previous games — and was able to because Chivas was spread thin through the midfield.

Joseph didn’t stand a chance against the number of players New England had filling the holes in the center of the midfield. Both Lee Nguyen and Kelyn Rowe operated as inverted wingers and tucked inside while Clyde Simms and Ryan Guy played centrally — New England had four players against what looked like one. Early on, it worked. Joseph couldn’t get time on the ball and his teammates were a bit rusty and loose with their passes, turning the ball over after just a few touches.

Then the game swung and New England’s former captain and stalwart in the midfield took over, this time, though, Shalrie Joseph was sporting a Chivas jersey. In the 23rd minute, Joseph got on the end of a Miller Bolanos corner and crushed it past Revolution goalkeeper Matt Reis. The game turned there.

After New England’s three goals, Joseph drifted deeper into the midfield and got on the ball more, which allowed him more time to dictate the pace of the game. It was a vintage game from the midfielder. He was winning balls, forcing bad touches and errant passes while swinging the ball from side to side, getting on the ball whenever he could. When Joseph started finding the time to swing the ball, Chivas’ midfield spacing became a problem for the Revs. Tristian Bowen was able to run at Kevin Alston and force the defender back, making him weary of overlapping Rowe on the right side. Bolanos and Townsend both pushed to the right for Chivas and matched up on New England left back Chris Tierney, allowing Juan Agudelo space and time to receive the ball in front of the Revolution’s back four, which meant the 19-year-old forward had time to pick passes or turn and run at defenders.

“I think we just started being able to move the ball a little bit better, started to be able to spread them out and not only look to play underneath them, but also look to get in behind, and once you do that you get the other teams defense guessing a little bit,” said Chivas defender Danny Califf after the game.

Joseph scored another goal, a beautiful curling left-footed strike just before half-time, and Chivas pulled even when Bolanos scored in the 47th minute. Make no mistake, though, this game was about Joseph, and it was about more than his return home to the team he called family for 10 seasons. This game was about the kind of presence he can bring to a midfield when he’s on. In the past few seasons, Joseph has had few of these kinds of performances for one reason or another, but it’s easy to forget just how good he was for the Revolution. A game like this, where he puts his team on his back — now Chivas — reminds everyone of just how dominant he can be and how teams can build around his skill-set.


A Note on New England’s Formation

The Revs came out in a 4-4-2 (4-2-2-2, really) and found solid width in the first 21 minutes from overlapping full backs Chris Tierney and Kevin Alston. Once Chivas pushed them back, the Revolution lost its width and the game shrunk right into the hands of Joseph, who was able to mark more players and find his way into more passing lanes.

The introduction of Benny Feilhaber and Diego Fagundez did a lot to alleviate the pressure in the middle of the field for the Revs. Fagundez made runs out wide and gave Jerry Bengtson more room to find space centrally. Feilhaber opened up the field by switching the ball quickly and keeping possession in the middle of the field. Both players have struggled to find their form this season, but if they can bounce back from this performance, New England will score more goals and control the tempo of the game as well as possess the ball in the opposition’s final-third more, something Heaps says the team has been working on in recent weeks.

“I think we switched up formations a little bit. We’re trying to be a little more dynamic in how we break teams down, rather than we do a lot of analysis of where we possess the ball. We’re number one in possession – I don’t know where we are after this game – and number one in possession in the midfield, but in the other team’s half, but not in the final third. So we’ll call it the middle third, but attacking middle third. We want to get out of there and get into the final third,” said Heaps after the game. “We’ve spent a lot of time this week and last week and probably the week before trying to break out of those areas and find areas we can get past it and then get back in, rather than try to build everything from one area.”

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