With six games remaining on the fixture list, the eighth place (re: not going to the playoffs) Revolution have two choices. They play out the string. Or they can, as Jay Heaps brilliantly coined it, play “persuasively.”
That was the adjective Heaps dropped earlier this week to characterize the manner in which his squad performed in a 2-0 win over Columbus last week. It was a game in which the Revolution aggressively pursued the duels. Passes were made with purpose. A rhythm was established. Opportunities were unearthed. In other words, it looked like honest-to-goodness, winning soccer out there.
And Heaps demands more of it. He demands more because this isn’t about playoff hopes, playing for next season, or even ruining another team’s playoff chances. Incentives, perhaps. But not the main objective.
Why? Because the primary focus has never changed: taking it one game at a time. Simply put, there is no game more important than the next one. Each game, from now until October 27, must be played persuasively. Each player must perform like he deserves to be on the pitch. Each move should be made with the intent of executing it flawlessly.
Forget the stakes and the likelihood of early-November tee times and Madden marathons. Each game, from here on out, should be treated like a playoff game. After all, a number of players might need to do a lot of persuading not only to stay in the starting XI, but to remain on the roster next season.
Meanwhile, for your reading pleasure, we hope it won’t take much persuasion for you to continue on and review the following five, neatly-itemized questions.
1. Will Juan Toja make his Revolution debut on Saturday? With a full week’s worth of training under his belt, it looks like Toja could be in line for playing time against D.C. Granted, he may not get the start. In fact, it looks pretty likely we’ll see a midfield of the usual suspects (Rowe-Simms-Guy-Nguyen). But even at this stage of the season, you have to think Heaps is anxious to see what he’s got in Toja, who may or may not be fully fit. That said, expect the Colombian midfielder to be the first option off the bench – especially if the Revolution need to stabilize the midfield against a D.C. squad that will likely come out flying.
2. Can the Revs play with the same confidence seen against the Crew last week? They’re certainly capable of it, no doubt. Yes, Columbus may have played like collection of collegians 10 days ago. And yes, it may have been a result the Revolution “lucked” into, especially without Saer Sene and Jerry Bengtson available. But sometimes, a club just needs things to fall their way to remind themselves what it takes to win. Now that the winless streak is a thing of the past, the Revolution may no longer fear the mistakes. And a team that doesn’t play afraid is a team that can win wherever it plays.
3. What brand of football will the Revs employ? In the their last three games, the Revolution have been none too shy to incorporate a direct style of play. And to their credit, it’s seen them achieve modest success (1-0-2). However, the fact remains that the Revolution, on the whole, are a team that hasn’t commanded the aerial battles exceptionally well. But with little else working, especially with the midfield in flux, it may be their best option. Of course, if they decide to continue with the direct stuff, they’ll undoubtedly have to start grabbing second balls with far more frequency.
4. Will Benny Feilhaber see the field? The immediate future doesn’t look all that bright for Benny at the moment. With the emergence of Ryan Guy in recent weeks, it looks very much like the former National Teamer is the odd man out. And that situation may not change much at all with Toja in the picture. But, let’s not forget that Feilhaber still has the ability to change the game on the drop of a dime. Of course, he hasn’t been doing that much this season. Yet, his talents can’t be ignored. That said, while Toja may cost Feilhaber playing time down the stretch, a Dwayne DeRosario-less D.C. might be the perfect opponent for Feilhaber flourish once again.
5. Who gets the start alongside Stephen McCarthy at center back? There’s a commonly-held idea that a starter shouldn’t lose his job due to injury. That a starter shouldn’t have to look over his shoulder during the recovery process. Well, bump that idea. While A.J. Soares has shown that he can be a valuable asset to the back four, Darrius Barnes has been playing at a much higher level during his last two starts. Yes, the sample size may be small. But if Heaps means what he say about accountability, and players fighting for their position every week, then expect Barnes to be back in the starting XI in D.C.