Let the dress rehearsal begin. Again.
In what’s becoming an annual rite of autumn, the local XI were doomed to playing out the string again after D.C. handed them a 2-1 loss, which officially eliminated New England from postseason contention.
Yes, it was a season that looked promising early. At the midway point, the Revolution came within a game of .500. But once the second half arrived, they crashed back to reality, then traded away the face of their franchise for good measure. And with a 10-game winless streak that dropped them to the depths of the Eastern Conference, they didn’t even make it interesting down the stretch.
But then again, was this team actually built for a run? In hindsight, the trades (OK, there was just one really big trade), the failed signings, and the subpar performances all conspired against the Revolution this year. All of them. And with few salvagable parts remaining, the Revolution did exactly what many of us thought they’d do in D.C. on Saturday: they fell short. Again.
Aside from that, what else did we learn from Saturday’s clash in the nation’s capital?
1. It may have only been a cameo, but Juan Toja is exactly what the Revolution need to rebuild their midfield. It doesn’t happen often. A player trots onto the field and immediately makes his club better. Shalrie Joseph did it. So did Taylor Twellman and Steve Ralston. On Saturday, that player was Juan Toja. Within a matter of moments, Toja’s presence provided a noticeable sense of calm amid a chaotic sequence. Instead of going forward without a blueprint, Toja used real-time analysis to pick and choose his options. He plotted. And the Revolution attack grew sharper and deadlier as a result. OK, so maybe 17 minutes does not make a franchise player. But, judging on Toja’s body of work (see: two MLS All-Star nods), it’s patently obvious that the Revolution could sure use a lot more of what he brought to the table.
2. Benny Feilhaber would be great – heck an All-Star – if they just made the goals wider. Is there anyone on the roster who’s pocketed more near-misses than the
resident National Teamer Gold Cup hero (circa 2007)? Whether it’s K.C., Columbus or D.C., Feilhaber has made it a habit of ripping well-placed shots that seem to swerve right, left or above frame at the last millisecond. While it’s encouraging to see that his confidence hasn’t been affected, the fact is a player of his caliber needs to bag those shots. Missed shots – no matter how close – aren’t what this club needs. What the Revolution need is Feilhaber to convert. They need him to arrange more meetings with the ball and goal, not the signage or ball boy. Feilhaber may the highest paid player on the roster, but his shots have been anything but money this year.
3. Ryan Guy and Clyde Simms are quality players, no doubt. But if we see them both back in the central midfield next year, you can make it four straight seasons devoid of a postseason run. Credit the duo for putting in the effort to create something that resembles an MLS midfield – which, by no stretch, is an easy thing to do. Just ask Joseph Niuoky. Both are serviceable players who can be counted upon to give it their all every week. But let’s not kid ourselves: they are not the solution centrally. While Simms plays a quiet, yet fairly effective brand of football – connecting short passes, providing cover in the rear – he lacks the swag to set the tempo. On the other hand, Guy is a moth by the light. High-energy, unpredictable (in a good way, mostly) and does whatever he can to get his foot or head on the ball. Good qualities, of course. However, harsh reality has shown that the pairing don’t have what it takes to take control of a game. They’re good, but they are what they are: complimentary players. And in this league, you can’t have two of them on the field at the same time and expect to attain success.
4. Darrius Barnes may have just played himself back on the bench. Before we get into Saturday’s game, the following should be noted. One, that he unquestionably bolstered the backline during the previous pair of games. Two, that as a result of his contributions, the Revolution claimed consecutive clean sheets. Now, with that out of the way, it’s time to bring back A.J. Soares. Why? For all that Barnes brings to the table (tenacity, physicality and decent speed), it’s clear that he’s still prone to making elementary mistakes. Check the tape on the Chris Pontius goal. With the D.C. striker pushing it forward, Barnes allows him all the space he needs before he rips it past Reis. On another occasion, he overruns Maicon Santos in the box before Reis, this time, bails him out. Granted, it may have been just one game. But at the same time, it may not be a bad idea to bring back Soares to the rear.
5. Kevin Alston should stay on the left for the foreseeable future. One of the few bright spots seen during the latter half of the season has to be Alston’s switch to the left. Not that it should come as a huge surprise, of course. During his senior year at Indiana, he didn’t just play the entirety of the season on the left. He played well enough on the left to warrant a first-round pick, not to mention a GA contract. Four years later, Alston seems to be picking up right where he left off as a Hoosier. His overlapping runs are better. His crosses are sharper. His swagger is back. Yes, it may take many, many more performances like the ones seen recently to warrant a return to National Team camp. But if he can build upon these recent performances, the Revolution may be best served by keeping him at left back for the duration of the season.