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.