Five Things We Learned: Revolution vs. D.C. United

Revolution midfielder Diego Fagundez rues a missed opportunity in the second half of Saturday's 0-0 draw against D.C. United. (Photo: Chris Aduama/aduama.com)

Revolution midfielder Diego Fagundez rues a missed opportunity in the second half of Saturday’s 0-0 draw against D.C. United. (Photo: Chris Aduama/aduama.com)

Fear not, Revolution supporters: Saturday’s morale-deflating 0-0 draw to the downtrodden D.C. United will soon be forgotten.

Yes, 90 minutes came and went with nary a goal from the local XI. The attack stalled inside the final third. The defense, which has played resoundingly well this season, were fortunate that D.C. had so many poor finishers on the field. Meanwhile, the midfield, to its credit, improved its form after last week’s unwatchable first half. Then again, it’s difficult to give them too much credit when D.C., on the road, wins the possession battle in the first half and Lee Nguyen continues to summon his inner Stephen Gostkowski and hits the ball over the bar yet again.

Now, credit due to D.C.  After all, the data suggested that the Revolution shouldn’t been troubled to score a goal or two against the worst defense in the league. That Diego Fagundez and Juan Agudelo would have a field day in front of the D.C. net. And maybe, just maybe, with a little bit of luck, Juan Toja would’ve found his first tally of 2013.

But Saturday night belonged to Ben Olsen and the husk of the club he guided to 58 points last season.

For starters, his talented, yet supremely underperforming side came to Foxborough as the hungry Wolff, er, wolf. They showed their fangs when Fagundez went into the final third. They beckoned toward the referee when Agudelo attempted to outmuscle a defender. And when Sene sauntered toward the 18, they backed him into a corner. Above all else, though, they accomplished something that the Galaxy and Dynamo failed to do in recent weeks: they kept the Revolution off the board.

Some will say that the local XI were the victims of their own hype on Saturday. That they were overconfident after the 5-0 win over the Galaxy, and the back-to-back wins before that. There’s no doubt that they knew the game against D.C. wasn’t going to be easy. Many of the players said as much afterward. But, to a man, how do you get the blood flowing for a game against the worst team in the league?

Simply put, there really is no way of preparing for the current D.C. Uniteds of the world. You just can’t predict what a desperate team will bring to the table. There is no cheat sheet or secret code when a team with nothing to lose knocks on the door. All you can do is adjust. Sometimes, the adjustments aren’t drastic enough, and you find yourself backed into the same alley over and over. Other times, your fearless forward gets called for a foul right before your blonde mohawked forward beats the keeper. Both happened to the Revolution on Saturday. That both scenes transpired Saturday night was a sure sign that there would be no late-game heroics this time around.

The bitter taste of Saturday’s disappointing draw won’t last long, though. This game won’t define the Revolution any more than the 5-0 loss the Galaxy suffered a week ago will define them. There will be more important games to play as the season progresses. A draw to Olsen’s lowly squad won’t only be soon forgotten – it’ll probably be inconsequential with more than half of the season’s worth of games remaining.

Scoreless draws aren’t often bastions of insight. But we managed to pull a few nuggets from Saturday night.

1. In hindsight, the five goal output from the Galaxy game just might have undermined the offense against D.C. On paper, the Revolution blew out the defending champs in grand fashion a couple of Sundays ago. Five goalscorers, one of them coming from the red-hot Fagundez, another coming from last year’s leading scorer, and two others from the bench. Sounds like a convincing display of firepower, right? It was, if you that ignore two important facts: 1. the Revolution played a forgettable first half, with Sene’s goal the exception, 2. the three goals at the end were, essentially, garbage time goals with the Galaxy extending themselves for a pair of strikes in the hopes of leveling it. But a five-spot, no matter how it unfolds, is sure to give any offense confidence. Did it make the Revolution attack too confident? It might have. After the game, Juan Agudelo hinted that offense was trying to do the same things they did well against the Galaxy, and even after it was apparent that it wasn’t working, they continued to on the same track. Agudelo suggested that employing a more direct style, especially with him up top, could’ve been the made a difference. It’s possible that the attack simply believed that they’d eventually break through, with Sunday’s performance still fresh in their minds.

2. Jay Heaps gave D.C. far too much credit in his postgame presser. You often have to take what a coach says during a post-game presser with a grain of salt. After all, he’s only minutes removed from what is, especially for Heaps, an intense and emotional 90 minutes, regardless of the scoreline. But what Heaps said about how good D.C. is reeked of excuse-making. True, D.C. is only months removed from a second seed playoff berth. And yes, they still have dangerous players. But those same dangerous players have also allowed a league-high 24 goals, and only have six goals of their own. Worse, they haven’t won since March, and have accumulated a league-worst 10 losses this year. The Revolution didn’t draw to the team that picked up 58 points. No matter how you slice it,  the Revolution were kept off the board by the worst team in the league, and Heaps simply didn’t want to face that sobering fact..

3. The fact that the offense failed to deconstruct what was a largely unexceptional D.C. gameplan suggests that the Revolution might have forgotten to “turn on the soccer brain,” as A.J. Soares likes to say. Although D.C. might be the worst team in the league, you have to hand it to them: they did their homework. They put together a pretty good gameplan to neutralize the Revolution’s best attackers. By pushing Fagundez wide, keeping close tabs on Agudelo, and forcing Nguyen to take a shot or make the safe pass, D.C. essentially dared the Revolution to beat them along the flanks. And when D.C. wasn’t cornering them, they were cutting them down in the attacking third, which set up some pretty ugly set piece action. The attack countered in the same manner it has for the past six weeks:  interchanging spots, with Fagundez and Sene switching between the left and right, Sene pressing up and Agudelo dropping back, Nguyen shifting wide when Agudelo dropped back, and so on. But D.C. was clearly prepared for that, too. Agudelo’s suggestion to go more direct could’ve worked. Then again, it might not have. But we’ll never know because seconds before the final whistle, the attack was still trying to show the D.C. different looks, instead of changing the gameplan.

4. There really aren’t enough positive adjectives to describe the Revolution defense. Say what you will about the way the defense allowed D.C. no fewer than three excellent opportunities to capitalize. Let’s be honest: you can’t be great every night. Nevertheless, the Revolution have no one to thank for avoiding a potential upset than the back four and Bobby Shuttleworth. How good is this defense? Statistically, they’re one of the best seen in club history. Their 395-game shutout streak is club record. They currently lead the league with nine clean sheets, and Shuttleworth, who wasn’t even the starting goalkeeper at the start of the season, is tied for the lead in shutouts (7) with reigning Goalkeeper of the Year Jimmy Nielsen. On Saturday, Jose Goncalves and Stephen McCarthy imposed their will on Carlos Ruiz and Chris Pontius. Chris Tierney may have been caught out of position early, but largely manned the left well and provided decent service on the attack. Andrew Farrell may still be a work in progress, but he helped keep Kyle Porter largely anonymous from the run of play. Lastly, Shuttleworth snagged a dangerous shot from Pontius, and continues to organize his defenders well. It wasn’t their best game, to be sure. But it’s telling that even when they’re not on top of their game, they’re still pretty darn good.

5. Even though one point may have felt like a disappointing result, Shuttleworth summed it up best: this was the kind of game the Revs would’ve found a way to lose last year. The Revolution’s ability to “stay in games” was a recurring theme last year, as Heaps attempted to return the club to respectability. It was often said that one of the most telling examples of the team’s improvement was its ability to stay within striking distance of their opponent every week (i.e. not get blown out, which is an admirable characteristic, of sorts, if you’re coming off the worst season in franchise history). But even though the Revolution played in a whopping 27 games in which the outcome was decided by a goal or less, the fact is they went 4-15-8 in those games. In other words, they found a way to lose a lot of close games, especially when they hit the skids during the summer. It looked like we’d see more of the same this year, with a a pair of 1-0 losses to FC Dallas and Philadelphia earlier this year. But with the way the defense is playing, the clumsy mistakes are finally starting to disappear. Zero-zero (or nil-nil, if you will) to D.C. may not be the ideal result. But it’s safe to say is that one point against D.C. is a heck of a lot less embarrassing than zero points against D.C.

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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's contributed to The Associated Press, The Canadian Press, and has been featured on MLSSoccer.com & RevsNet.com. Follow him on Twitter: @BrianOConnell21 or e-mail him at BOConnell21@aol.com