Technically Speaking: Revolution at Whitecaps

Revolution midfielder Diego Fagundez assisted on Kelyn Rowe's 20th minute goal against the Whitecaps on Saturday. (Photo: Kari Heistad/capturedimages.biz)

Revolution midfielder Diego Fagundez assisted on Kelyn Rowe’s 20th minute goal against the Whitecaps on Saturday. (Photo: Kari Heistad/capturedimages.biz)

The Whitecaps beat the Revs 4-3 last night in a game that abruptly reversed momentum in the 23rd minute, when Andrew Farrell was red-carded for denying Kenny Miller a scoring opportunity in the penalty area.

However, before that foul, the Revolution were in firm command thanks to a pair of beautiful goals by Juan Agudelo and Kelyn Rowe. Agudelo’s goal was set up by a world-class long pass from Chris Tierney, while Rowe’s was orchestrated by a sweet little five-yard special from Diego Fagundez.

After the foul, the Revs had difficulty playing a man down—not because they were overpowered or fatigued, but because they were simply too impatient. When leading 2-1 with a man down, a team should spread out, pass the ball with the idea of keeping possession as much as possible and “taking the air out of the ball” (as they say in basketball). They need to be very selective as to when to attack the goal. When they are not in possession, they have to play defense for all they’re worth.

The turning-point foul occurred when Kenny Miller, a fast, skillful, and experienced winger-midfielder for the Caps, simply ran by Farrell. This, quite simply, should not have happened—Farrell is plenty fast himself. But he appeared not to respect Miller’s talents. He was playing him too tight and, from a positional standpoint, was unprepared to run with him. Chasing him haplessly from behind, Farrell clipped Miller’s right heel with his left foot.

It may well have been an accident, but it was clearly still a foul. The referee’s decision to red-card Farrell was correct, too (despite Jeff Causey’s outburst to the contrary), because the foul definitely denied Miller a good scoring opportunity. In fact, Miller was in better position to score here than he was 16 minutes later, when he did score. Camilo Sanvezzo’s successful penalty kick brought the score to 2-1.

The Caps’ second goal resulted from a similar defensive lapse. Miller, once again the culprit, ran past a flat-footed Stephen McCarthy (the last man back), to sink the ball low and in the far corner, beating a helpless Bobby Shuttleworth from close range. Revs defenders have to remind themselves that beginning body position (in other words, body position before a forward makes his move) is critical when playing man-to-man defense.

If McCarthy had positioned himself “side on,” his body turned to the sideline instead of directly facing Miller, left shoulder forward, and maybe a step closer to his own goal and a half step toward the middle of the field, then he could have compensated for Miller’s superior speed. This position makes it easier for the defender to run with an opposing forward, even if he’s a half-step slower, because he not only has a step on him but he also has to turn only 90 degrees instead of 180 before accelerating. This kind of defensive discipline will greatly reduce the defender’s chances of looking like a deer in the headlights, as McCarthy did on this play.

The third goal—Jordan Harvey’s header on a nice cross—would not have happened either, if the Revs were playing proper team defense. Overlapping and come-from-behind runs by outside backs have to be defended by opposing wingers or outside midfielders. Harvey was absolutely wide open and should have been marked by Fagundez, who instead was merely standing and watching, about 15 yards away. He had enough time to get back to mark Harvey, but failed to do so.

Miller’s second goal (the Caps’ fourth), was beautifully taken off a perfect through ball that caught both McCarthy and Jose Gonsalves overcommitted. A lucky bounce for the Revs gave the defenders a second to recover. For the life of me, I can’t figure out why McCarthy took that second to pointing to the right with his arm, when he could have been charging the shooter. Whatever the reason, it was a great goal. Shuttleworth had no hope on any of the four goals.

One technical note: despite one excellent free kick in overtime by Nguyen, his kicks have frequently veered into the wild and off-target. This inconsistency very likely arises from his mimicking the power-kicking technique of Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale (when he takes free kicks). They both make contact with the inside of the big toe, ankle semi-flexed, as does Nguyen. When they make contact as they hope to, the ball can do amazing things in terms of dipping and swerving, but (as with the toe poke) there’s very little margin for error because of the small contact surface—a lot smaller than that of a properly taken full instep kick.

At the end of the day, the red card to Farrell was a total game changer. Perhaps they should practice playing a man down, if they don’t already. This situation is bound to happen in the course of a long season and certainly can be prepared for. Live and learn.

(Editor’s note: “Technically Speaking” will be on hiatus for the summer, but will return in August.)

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About Rick Sewall

Rick Sewall played four years at Yale University (1961 to 1965), nine years semi-pro for New Haven City (1966 to 1974), three years on the Connecticut Senior All-Star team (1972 to 1974), one year for the Boston Minutemen (1975), three years for Framingham Belenenses (LASA League, 1980 to 1982), and many years of over-30 and over-40. He has coached at all levels from kindergarten through college, including Boston Latin High School from 1986 to 1999 and girls’ club soccer from 1991 to 2005 (including two Mass. state championships) and runs camps and clinics focusing on technical training. A USSF B licensed coach, he was taught by, played with, and has coached with and for Hubert Vogelsinger, his primary soccer mentor, for over 40 years.