New England Soccer Today

Five Things We Learned: Revolution at Union

Revolution midfielder Benny Feilhaber collected a pair of cautions on Saturday, leaving his club short-handed in the waning minutes at PPL Park. (Photo: Tony Biscaia/

Benny Feilhaber may have just sealed his fate in Foxboro.

With the Revolution down a goal late at PPL Park on Saturday, Feilhaber, who played an inspired brand of soccer in the latter stages, might have threaded a killer pass to Dimitry Imbongo or Jerry Bengtson to level it.

Then again, he might have a found a clear look and ripped it past Zac MacMath. Or, he might have curled a corner through to Juan Toja and assisted on a last-gasp goal. However you slice it, Feilhaber’s form suggested that he might have given his club one more chance to level it  late.

The keyword, of course, is might. Feilhaber might have made a game-changing play. We’ll never know for certain because he chose a different path.

The Union, who irritated the Revolution with chippy play late, cut down Feilhaber on at least two occasions. Apparently, those challenges were all he needed to pick up a pair of pointless cautions in the 86th and 88th minutes. Just like that, one of the Revolution’s best chances of getting a late equalizer effectively vanished into the cool, autumn air in Chester, Pa.

Of course, the blueprint for this tactic probably came from last year’s Revolution-Union clash in Foxboro on Jul. 17. Just like they did on Saturday, the Union coerced the creative midfielder into an early exit by baiting him into a pair of second half cautions.

Say what you will about his temper, his streaky play, or his faulty free kicks. But don’t get it twisted: Benny Feilhaber is a very good player. A very good player who, not long ago, was playing in the World Cup.

However, if the last two seasons have shown us anything, it’s that a little needling can turn the talented midfielder into a liability. A liability Jay Heaps may no longer have much patience for.

So what other learning moments did we take away from Saturday’s match at PPL Park?

1. The midfield continues to do the defense very few favors. It’s hard to fault the middle four much for their struggles on Saturday. Clyde Simms’ calf wasn’t fully healed. Injuries forced inexperienced rookie Alec Purdie into the left spot. Kelyn Rowe, for all the talent he has, is still figuring out what it takes to play in MLS. Feilhaber flashed a few nice passes, but on the whole, struggled to keep the attack in gear. Yet, none of these issues should be construed as excuses for the club’s inability to keep Philadelphia – yes, Philadelphia, the same club that’s scored a conference-low 35 goals –  from crashing through the middle third time after time. Credit the defense for keeping it a one-goal margin, but they weren’t helped much by the players in front of them.

2. The defense, for its part, played reasonably well given the circumstances. Speaking of the defense, it’s a minor miracle that they were able to keep the Union to single goal on Saturday. Yes, the Union don’t have the most prolific attack in the league. On the contrary, they actually have one of the worst in terms of goalscoring. At the same time, though, the Revolution somehow kept the club within striking distance even though, 1. They had a midfielder at right back, 2. One of their center backs had to leave after the hour, 3. Their rookie midfielder had to drop back to right back, 4. Their midfielder-turned-right-back had to slide inside to the center. To say the cards were stacked against the back four would be a Stephen McCarthy-sized understatement. Even so, they shook off a few nervous moments and, for the most part, delivered a decent performance. One of the keys? Winning the duels (56%), especially in the box.

3. The Revolution will be lucky to score again this season. If Jay Heaps had a dollar for every time he alluded to the lack of a killer instinct this season, he’d probably have enough cash to coerce Marko Perovic to come back. Or maybe not. That’s neither here nor there, of course. What is here at the present moment is the attack’s maddening inability to find the back of the net. You saw Jerry Bengtson’s tap off the post. What was that? And it isn’t just the balls that the balls aren’t going in. It’s the complete absence of creativity in the final third that’s pulled the rug right under the Revolution in recent weeks (four goals in their last six). With Lee Nguyen and Saer Sene done for the season, the scoring may follow suit.

4. Clyde Simms may have played his strongest game since the Shalrie Joseph trade. It was, by no means, the prettiest game the veteran midfielder has played this season. There have been times – many of which we saw in the first half of the season – in which Simms played a sound, yet effective brand of soccer. He often played the role of right hand man to Joseph. They were bright days indeed. After Joseph was traded, the skies darkened and Simms was often a shadow of his early-season self. Then, with a strained calf plaguing him, the former D.C. center half reminded us of his value. He stayed back. He tidied up in the rear. He was vocal. He stayed loyal to his responsibilities. In other words, he gave the Revolution a fighting chance for 73 minutes. For a team that’s struggled to find its identity during the second half of the season, Simms gave us a glimpse of what the Revolution need more of during these final set of games.

5. Diego Fagundez isn’t suited for a second striker role. We know it isn’t by design that Fagundez is featuring as a second striker. Sene’s injury, along with the inconsistent play of Blake Brettschneider and Dimitry Imbongo, has forced Heaps’ hand. And it hasn’t been pretty. On Saturday, Fagundez probably shoud’ve collected an assist had Bengtson not banked it off the post. Other than that, though, it Fagundez did little else. He didn’t even record a single shot before he was subbed off in the 64th minute. That said, it may be time to think differently. With the attack on standby for the past month, the team’s fortunes might be helped by played Fagundez out wide (see: right side of the midfield). If it means that Bengtson is forced to play as the lone striker, then that’s a risk Heaps may have to take. After all, he’s not getting much right now from Fagundez at forward.

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  1. Chris B

    October 8, 2012 at 11:15 am

    I thought Diego looked creative, but adding him to the midfield would make the picture even more complicated!

    However, maybe a 4-3-3 would suit this team well in the future. Obviously there will be roster turnover this offseason but a back four with three central midfielders consisting of Simms and Toja in front of the back four with Lee Nguyen in an attacking role and finally three strikers with Sene (when healthy) on the left, Bengston in the middle and Diego on the right could be lethal. Very Barcelona-esque or, more realistically, SKC-esque! This is just a thought, I don’t know if it’s viable for this team or not.

    Maybe one of the reasons Simms did so well was Heaps actually didn’t sub him off for once and he got to play with Toja who could be the bruiser Simms misses playing next too since Shalrie was traded. It was the first time I felt Simms really looked like the captain. Maybe he’s finally becoming our leader at the end of the season. It’s late, but better late than never. I hope Simms keeps it up and I hope to see him as a big (if not the biggest) part of our team next year.

    I say this because CDM is one of the most important positions. Look at Beckerman, Alonso, etc. They are all important pieces to their respective teams. One of Heaps’ rookie mistakes is taking Simms off for another attacker all the time. I don’t think that tactic has worked too much and while Simms hasn’t been playing particularly well lately, he may be too important to the team to sub off every game.

  2. Brian O'Connell

    October 9, 2012 at 9:46 am

    A 4-3-3 wouldn’t be a bad idea. Heck, it can’t get much worse than it’s been with two strikers for the last two weeks. And if these final few games are about evaluation, then why not tweak the formation? Why not see if Bengtson can get better chances as a lone striker?
    I agree with you, Chris, about Simms. He really looked active and, perhaps just as importantly, seemed to exhibit some leadership. However, if he ends up being a big part of this team next year, then the 2013 Revs will have serious problems. Don’t get me wrong: he’s a good player. But if Clyde Simms is one of their best players next season, then the Revs will have a tough time making it to the postseason. Just my opinion.

    • Chris B

      October 9, 2012 at 2:23 pm

      Okay fair, but the games in which he completes about 90 plus percent of passes means we’re likely do to well. The trick is getting him to put in those performances every time which could be a formation/tactics issue.

      I know Simms is in his 30’s now but you can’t deny the fact that he helped D.C United win 2 Supporters’ Shields. He was not the biggest player of those D.C teams, but if he’s on his game frequently next year I think we have a good chance at the playoffs. Obviously we need more players either transferred in or just current players to step up as well. So I see what you’re saying that he can’t be the biggest piece per se but I still think he’s pretty important.

  3. Robert

    October 9, 2012 at 4:39 pm

    I agree. Simms is very important to the team going forward to next season. In a quick comparison to the Patriots, we see how important role players are to the success of the Belichickians. Simms may be just a role player, but he is, nevertheless, as important to the Revs as any player on the roster. He is part of the glue which can keep a team on top. Off topic – I got a little excited with the Heaps coercing Marko Perovic to come back comment. Why did we let him go again? Intriguing off-season only two weeks away.

    • Chris B

      October 9, 2012 at 5:52 pm

      Perovic was injured and out for the 2011 season and when his midseason option was up he reportedly asked to be let go. He later came out and said he loved the fans, Boston, etc but didn’t like the organization and said the ownership was too focused on the Patriots. Can’t really blame Marko there.

  4. Brian

    October 9, 2012 at 9:35 pm

    I have to agree on Diego, he is not suited for that role, although I think he wasn’t bad in the distribution element in the last game. It brings me to another question, he is always listed as a striker but for some reason I believe that was a Nichol thing. I saw a few games when he was in the youth system and it seemed he was in a midfield role in those, is that correct? To me he seems more suited for the midfield. I’d rather see him there than Cardenas who can bring a lot of energy but just something’s missing for me.

    WRT Simms, he is a solid player but I don’t see him more than that. If I had to be really critical in looking towards the offseason, CDM might be an area of need. I feel a stronger player in this area could really help out the center of defense and with better utilization of the midfield, AJ is not strong in distribution and seems to have lost confidence, with a dominant CDM he wouldn’t have to be, of course this could be mitigated with a better option to partner with (no offense to McCarthy who’s performances I think you have to tip your hat to in the second half especially considering where he started).

  5. rick sewall

    October 12, 2012 at 10:15 am

    There has been no discussion about Benny’s presence on the team next year, and I agree that he should be gone notwithstanding his considerable abilities. He simply is too soft mentally, and all teams are aware of this and know how to take advantage of it. I am getting very tired of he ” frustration”excuse players of many sports use for bad behavior, especially late in games. Is it possible for a soccer player to keep his cool for a two hour time period? I think so,because most know it is a very important element in winning . I don’t see any discussion of the inverted winger tactic suggested by none other than BO’C. Maybe Diego could shoot from left wing. He is one of the few players on he team with good shooting technique, although I bet very few people in the organization realize this.

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