Just when you thought the Revs were ready to turn a corner in the wake of their 1-0 win in Chicago, they do something to remind you of who they really are.
To illustrate this point, let’s revisit the 76th minute of Saturday’s game, when the following sequence unfolded:
1. A Sebastien Le Toux corner darts toward Jack McInerney on the the doorstep.
2. A pair of Revolution defenders react to the ball.
3. McInerney analyzes the situation, and quickly realizes that he’s unmarked.
4. A pair of Revolution defenders make a move to where the ball is about to fall in.
5. McInerney cannot believe his good fortune. There is no one near him. Not only is there no one near him, but he is right in front of goal, with Le Toux’s corner coming his way. This is incredible, he thinks to himself.
6. A pair of Revolution defenders realize that they can’t get there fast enough.
7. McInerney lines up his shot, which is initially saved before it spills back to him.
8. A pair of Revolution defenders hurry over to try and stop McInerney from lining up another shot.
9. McInerney shoves his own rebound into the back of the net for the game-winner.
10. A pair of Revolution defenders look at each other trying to figure who’s fault it was.
If you experienced deja vu while reliving this sequence, it’s probably because it happened on Saturday night, and the memory is still fresh in your mind. It’s also probably familiar because some variation of this exact sequence – whether the defenders in question were A.J. Soares, Jose Goncalves, Kevin Alston or Ryan Guy(remember that experiment?) - happened not once, but twice last season.
How did this happen again? How did Jack McInerney score his third-game winning goal against the Revs in the span of nine months? And why do the Revs keep falling for it?
It’s easy to figure out how it happened. McInerney diagnosed the situation, positioned himself perfectly between Soares and Goncalves and put away his second effort. Why did the Revs allow it to happen? That’s a tougher one to answer.
There’s an old sports axiom. It says that when players make the same mistakes time after time, it’s more than just a performance issue. It’s a coaching issue. There’s no doubt that Jay Heaps, Jay Miller and Remi Roy work their butts off to get the squad ready each week. And they will continue to do so. But make no mistake: the spotlight is on to them to ensure that these kinds of mistakes don’t become a habit.
Now that we’ve grasped the reality of Jack McInerney’s ascension into The Legion of Revs Killers (see: Chad Barrett, Fabian Espindola, Carlos Ruiz and Jack Jewsbury), what else did we learn from Saturday’s loss?
1. God bless his heart, but Andrew Farrell tried to do too much. One of the things said about the first pick to be at the Combine was that he looked like a point guard in the back, directing traffic as he pushed the ball forward. Well, we saw Farrell’s inner Rajon Rondo on Saturday, but it didn’t always help the Revs. While he looked solid defensively, Farrell seemed preoccupied trying to get the attack going, and his form suffered as a result. Too many times, he lost the ball, forcing a few hasty retreats. Credit him for taking some initiative, especially in a game where the attack looked DOA for long stretches. However, he’ll learn to pick his spots better as his career progresses. That’s why they call them rookie mistakes, after all.
2. Aside from the McInernery goal, Jose Goncalves was his usual strong self. It’s impossible to talk about Goncalves’ performance without talking about McInerney’s goal. There’s no two ways about it: the veteran center back looked like a bystander as the bane of the Revolution backline struck yet again. Aside from the former Swiss League stalwart gave some much welcome presence to the rear. He looked strong on his challenges, and continued to chat up his fellow defenders to keep the Union at bay for much of the game. Yes, coughing up another goal from a corner isn’t one for the career highlight reel. But the outspoken Goncalves will see to it that he and his teammates don’t let it become a habit.
3. The Revs can’t afford to fluff their opportunities this year. Let’s be honest: this New England XI isn’t going to set the nets on fire anytime soon. Simply put, they don’t have a ton of quality in front of frame, with the exception of maybe Bengtson. And depending on the day, that’s a big maybe. In other words, what happened to Bengtson in the 36th minute, or what happened to Juan Toja in the 78th minute, cannot become a trend. There are going to be plenty of the games similar to the one in Philly where the chances are simply too far and few in between, and the onus on getting a point can’t rest squarely on the defense. The fact is that this team, as currently comprised has two options: become better shooters (as our friend Rick Sewall has pointed out numerous times) or acquire another player who can be counted upon to punch the ol’ onion bag. Until either happens, the pressure will continue to fall on the shoulders of defense.
4. Make a note of it: Scott Caldwell is going to be a special player. It may have been tough to tell during a game as unspectacular as Saturday’s, but the newest Homegrown Player gave us a glimpse into his potential. His ability to show for his defenders, use space to his advantage, play the ball to the right teammate, or put a ball into space are tell-tale signs of a smart player who let’s the game come to him, rather than the other way around. Key moment: in the 78th minute, he played a pass to Nguyen, who had to reach out with his right foot that, initially, looked like shaky pass. But because Nguyen had to poke at it, he was able to avoid the tackle, before turning it up the field and giving Toja a tasty scoring opportunity. It’s that kind of instinct – to see where the ball needs to go, not just who the ball should go to – that foretells a bright future for the rookie center half.
5. The Revs have got to learn how to win the ugly game. Heaps was right when he said that he felt his team deserved to come away with a point. They should have. Yes, the elements were far from ideal, and they were playing at a park where they’d never won. But they found chances, while the Union weren’t very strong on the attack, even if they were pushing numbers forward. But, as noted by Heaps and A.J. Soares in the post-game interviews, all it takes is a mistake to undo it all. Just one. Granted, this group is better than they were at this time last year. And one game does not make a season. But, while good teams can survive and weather (pun intended) a critical mental lapse, the Revs simply do not have that luxury right now.