Five Things We Learned: Revolution vs. Toronto FC

Revolution defender Chris Tierney played a crucial role in Saturday's 2-0 win over Toronto. (Photo: Kari Heistad/capturedimages.biz)

Revolution defender Chris Tierney played a crucial role in Saturday’s 2-0 win over Toronto. (Photo: Kari Heistad/capturedimages.biz)

Don’t look now, but the Revolution might be putting together a run. Not a mini-run, a two-game glimpse, or a tease of terrific form. But a legitimate, we-taking-over kind of run.

In the last 30 days, the Revolution have gotten results from three clubs holding playoff spots. They’ve scored eight goals. They’ve picked up four clean sheets. They’ve moved the ball with greater efficiency. They’re found their form in the final third. Most importantly, they’ve been winning.

Not convinced? We could hardly blame you. After all, we’re talking about a team that earned their last a playoff berth when the first Hangover was in theaters. A team that last put together a winning record when the U.S. kicked off World Cup Qualifying…for South Africa ’10. A team that, well, just hasn’t been all that great in the last few years.

During these dark seasons, we’ve seen instances in which it looked like they were ready to turn a corner. A brief spell of success last summer that saw them go unbeaten in five straight (2-0-3, between June 2 and July 8). An impressive win that featured three of their highest-touted players factor in the result (3-2 vs. Sporting K.C. on Apr. 22, 2011). A four game unbeaten run (2-0-2) in the summer of 2010 (Jul. 10 between Aug. 14.). All of which underscores one important thing: Anything can happen in MLS.

But this current run – not a streak, since the Revolution fell 2-1 to Real Salt Lake on May 7 – should elicit optimism in the soul of the greatest skeptic. It’s a run that goes back to their 2-0 win over Philadelphia – one that set the tone for their current form.

Since that win, the Revolution haven’t only gotten results – they’ve become a better team. The acquisition of Juan Agudelo – a striker who’s actually lived up to his billing – has obviously helped. Ditto when it comes to the emergence of Diego Fagundez.

And it hasn’t just been the goalscorers who’ve stepped up. Solid contributions from Jose Goncalves, Bobby Shuttleworth, Ryan Guy and Chris Tierney have served the Revolution well along the way.

While the performances across the pitch have all improved in the last 30 days, it’s next 30 days that may yield even more success. The Revolution play their next two at home. This weekend’s game features a Galaxy squad depleted by national team call-ups. The weekend after that, the basement dwelling D.C. United comes to town. After that, it’s a pair of road games against two of the worst teams in the west.

Could this run be nothing more than another unsustainable spell of success? It might be. Injuries, inexplicable losses of form and unpredictable opponents have all conspired against the Revolution in the past.

Even so, it seems that this time, the dominoes may have already started to fall in the Revolution’s favor. True, it’s much, much too early to be printing playoff tickets and penciling potential postseason matchups. But there may finally be good reason to be optimistic about the Revolution this summer.

Summer seemed like a distant idea during Saturday’s rainy and raw game against Toronto. Three cheers for climate change, and five questions for your consideration.

1. As good as the Revolution attack has looked during the last three weeks, it could get even better. Four goals in two games. It wasn’t long ago that such a stat seemed unreachable unless Bob Kraft opened up his checkbook to acquire Neymar. Since we all know that wasn’t going to happen, it was up to Jay Heaps to figure it out on his own. And that’s precisely what he’s done – with a little help, of course (see: Juan Agudelo trade, circa May 7). In the last two weeks, the Revolution have worked the passing lanes, cut down on their Route 1 power usage, and incorporated a pair of youngsters into the fold. So far, so good. But there’s reason to believe the offense might improve further. Saer Sene is gradually returning to form, and all he needs is more minutes. Agudelo, as good as he’s looked, should continue to get better as his familiarity with teammates grows. Lee Nguyen will snap out of his offensive funk and score. And then, of course, if Fagundez can continue to find opportunities, it’s not likely he’s going to miss very often. All signs are pointing to greater success if everyone can stay healthy.

2. Now that the Revolution have finally won a game they were expected to win, we may be witnessing a team that’s maturing before our eyes. It’s one thing to pull the rug under a better club on the road. Any punk MLS club can do that on any given day. It’s another thing entirely to carry that success into the following game, especially with a terrible opponent ahead at home. And yet, that’s precisely what the Revolution just did. Last year, the Revolution habitually dropped points against clubs they should’ve beaten. They lost to Philadelphia (twice!), Montreal (twice!) and couldn’t beat Toronto (twice!). They couldn’t even beat Chivas USA at home. Chivas USA! At home! Not surprisingly, the Revolution went from one win away from .500, to a ten-game winless streak that knocked them out of contention. On Saturday, everyone was predicting a Revolution win, and for the first time in a long time, the local XI followed through by claiming a 2-0 triumph against one of the worst clubs in the league. And it’s about time.

3. Jay Heaps has to hope that Jerry Bengtson finds his goalscoring touch in the next set of World Cup Qualifiers. There is photographic and video evidence to suggest that Bengston started Saturday’s match, but beyond that, little else to support his presence on the pitch against Toronto. In 72 minutes, the Honduran essentially donned the invisibility cloak and failed to record a single shot. Not a just shot on frame; not a shot period. What’s worse: He appeared tentative to get involved, a bystander watching the scenes unfold. We know that a striker’s most dangerous weapon is his confidence. Right now, that confidence is nowhere to be seen. Given his struggles, the upcoming slate of World Cup Qualifiers might just be the perfect opportunity for Bengtson to reassert himself, score a goal or two, and return to the Revolution with his batteries fully charged.

4. Someone needs to work with Andrew Farrell on his crosses. There’s no doubting Farrell’s defensive abilities. He’s never one to back down from a challenge, he’s excellent at clogging the lanes and he forces opponents into awkward spots. Clearly, his soccer I.Q. isn’t the issue. However, as soon as he steps over the halfway line, his form and execution seem to abandon him. Pushing up the flank, Farrell often has the right ideas and the vision to find the space to operate. But his execution has been, shall we say, lacking. Last week, we saw him overhit a cross so hard that it sailed over the opposite touchline. We didn’t see any such raw displays of brute strength against Toronto, but we did see a collection of passes that seem to take flight toward a number of undisclosed destinations. The good news is that he’s only 20, and it seems likely that this will improve. Even so, it’d behoove the coaching staff to address this issue so that the first pick can get himself involved on an attack that’s starting firing on all cylinders.

5. Chris Tierney has found his groove, and so long as he stays in it, the Revolution are better team with him on the pitch. Tierney has long been derided as a turtle-slow winger who can whip in a good cross on occasion. Now, there is some truth to that. Tierney isn’t going to win any sprints against Usain Bolt anytime soon, nor is he going to have the title of motion picture coined in his honor (Bend it like Tierney?). We have to accept this. However, one thing Tierney brings to the table is a veteran’s instinct to know when to press forward, even take a risk on occasion, and get himself involved in the attack. He doesn’t do this haphazardly, and in the last two games, no fullback has done it better. Granted, we’ve seen him put together a good game or two in the past, then fade away, or get injured, before he can put together a series of solid performances. If he can stay healthy, and Heaps allows him the freedom to press ahead and seek out targets like Fagundez and Agudelo, Tierney might be on his way toward eclipsing the career-best five assists he collected last year.

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About Brian O'Connell

Brian O'Connell serves as editor and staff writer at New England Soccer Today. He's also the Revolution beat writer for ESPNBoston.com, and is Officer at Large for the North American Soccer Reporters. He regularly contributes to The Associated Press, and has been featured on MLSSoccer.com & RevsNet.com. Follow him on Twitter: @BrianOConnell21 or contact him via e-mail at BOConnell21@aol.com