New England Soccer Today

Five Things We Learned: Revolution vs. Earthquakes

Revolution striker Chad Barrett tries to get back San Jose defender Dan Gargan during Saturday's 2-0 win over San Jose. (Photo: Chris Aduama/

Revolution striker Chad Barrett tries to get past San Jose defender Dan Gargan during Saturday’s 2-0 win over San Jose. (Photo: Chris Aduama/

Now comes the hard part.

After a Fourth of July weekend filled with fireworks, food and a pair of French forwards finding the back of the net in an easy 2-0 win over San Jose, the first half of the season is officially in the rearview. And with that, the second half – a.k.a. the hard part –  is upon us.

Recent history has shown that the latter half has not been kind to the local XI. Actually, it’s been the opposite of kind. It’s been wretched. And last year was a reminder of just how wretched it can get.

On Jul. 8, 2012 – nearly a year to the date prior to Saturday’s win – the Revolution closed out the first half of the season on a high-note with a feel-good win against the Red Bulls at Gillette Stadium. Now, this isn’t meant to scare or depress you, but similarities between last’s year’s win over New York and Saturday’s triumph over the ‘Quakes are uncanny.

For starters, of course, both occurred during the Revolution’s 17th game of the season. Additionally, both opponents were missing key pieces of their attack. Last year, the Red Bulls were without Thierry Henry who, not surprisingly, passed over the chance to play on the plastic turf. On Saturday, the Quakes were without Chris Wondolowski, who had a somewhat better excuse: national team duty.

But wait, there’s more. The Jul. 8, 2012 win over the Red Bulls marked the Revolution’s sixth victory of the season. Saturday’s result over the Earthquakes was – you guessed it – the sixth set of three points for the Revolution.

The final score of both games? 2-0. Talk about symmetry.

We all know what happened after last year’s 2-0 win to close out the first 17. The Revolution promptly went on a franchise-worst ten-game winless skid – a skid that featured losses to lower-ranked clubs, scoring droughts and the shocking trade of its captain. What once looked so promising fell to pieces within a matter of weeks.

We don’t know what will happen in the next 17. But what we do know is this: unlike last year, the Revolution stand one game above .500 at the midway point. This is the first time they’ve finished the first half above the treading water mark since 2008 – a playoff year, mind you. They have respectable depth at every position. And they are undeniably more talented than they were a year ago, with all due respect to Flo Lechner and Blake Brettschneider.

On paper, the Revolution appear to have enough pieces to, at very least, avoid a premature exit from postseason contention. They may not make it, but they should be in the hunt come October. The balance of their schedule – which features zero trips to the West Coast – shouldn’t be challenging as it was in the first half. And what can you say about a conference in which the first and final playoff seed is currently separated by less than two games?

Then again, we’ve seen this movie before. The second half is almost always an entirely different animal, unless, of course, you are Toronto FC, and you simply continue tanking it. But for the Revolution, it has been a cruel beast that’s shown no mercy to them, or their postseason ambitions.

Tip your caps to the Revolution for a promising start. They deserve it. They’re less than a game away from a playoff berth in early-July. That means something. But it won’t mean much three months from now if they can’t reverse their recent second half fortunes.

Easy, it most definitely will not be.

Saer Sene and Dimitry Imbongo sure made it look effortless on Saturday.  But what did we really learn from the first half finale?

1. Saer Sene is up to his old tricks again, and not a moment too soon. We’ve seen it time and time again: the left-footed long-range effort, a.k.a. the Saer Sene Special. However, after returning from his ACL injury earlier this year, the French forward seemed to have taken the missiles out of his arsenal. We saw him score his first goal of the season on a smooth give-and-go with Diego Fagundez against the Galaxy, and saw him take closer-range looks since then. But just when you thought the Mohawked forward had abandoned his propensity to pound one from distance, he went out there on Saturday night and did this. It wasn’t what the French would call finesse, by any means, but rather, brute force with a touch of precision, the kind of stuff that gets Goal of the Week consideration. Even more – it may signal that the Sene of old is back, and just in the nick of time given the prognosis – or lack thereof – on Juan Agudelo’s knee injury.

2. The Dimitry Imbongo doubters are becoming a dying breed. There weren’t many Imbongo believers last season, and there were even fewer when the Revolution brought him back for another season. Among the many complaints surrounding the striker: his lack of grace on the ball, his Khano Smith-like shots and, perhaps most strikingly, the fact he had his number shaved onto the side of his head. This, above all else, appeared to have been the last straw for some. Yet, Jay Heaps stuck by his young forward, and has given him the stage with increasing regularity in recent weeks. The results: three goals in all competitions, and a growing confidence that has apparently pushed Jerry Bengtson toward the bottom of the depth chart at forward. Of course, Imbongo’s recent run of success may just be lightning in a bottle. Then again, who’s to say that Saer Sene’s doppelganger isn’t also starting to channeling similar goalscoring abilities?

3. The absences of Marvin Chavez, Chris Wondolowski and Steven Lenhart may have made it easier, but give credit to Stephen McCarthy and Jose Goncalves for a lights-out performance. McCarthy mentioned to yours truly after Thursday’s training that he and Goncalves would have to deal with a lot of balls in the air. Well, that’s exactly what came to pass on Saturday. San Jose tried to punch passes into and in front of the area, and each time, either McCarthy or Goncalves were there to clear it way. Not that this was a surprise, as both have shown their strength in the air on many occasions in the past. But with the offense fluffing a surprising amount of opportunities to make it a rout, the reliability that the McCarthy-Goncalves partnership provided was enough to help preserve a much-needed three points in front of the home fans.

4. He may not have scored, but Chad Barrett was a force to be reckoned with. The last time the veteran striker got a start, it was a whirl-wind affair. Literally. Gusts of 20mph wreaked havoc during the Revolutio’s eye-gouging 0-0 draw to Sporting K.C., and perhaps Barrett was the biggest victim of the weather, thanks to a zero-shot afternoon. But in recent weeks, the form of the former Galaxy forward has warmed. After last week’s 88th minute equalizer, he found himself back in the XI, and making dangerous runs early, then stretching the Quake defense in the latter stages. More importantly, he gave the Revolution attack something they lacked severely when Jerry Bengtson is on the pitch: cohesion. He anticipated passes from Scott Caldwell and Lee Nguyen so well, it made you wonder whether Barrett was telepathic, or was like that guy from the Best Buy commercial who guesses what number Amy Poehler is thinking of. Coincidentally, the number Poehler is thinking of happens to be Barrett’s jersey number – 9 . But that’s neither here, nor there. Heaps likes to say that injuries create opportunities, and with Juan Agudelo out for the foreseeable future, Barrett has risen to the occasion.

5. The fact that neither Jerry Bengtson nor Kalifa Cisse were on the gameday 18 suggests they might not be here much longer. Few will argue – or at least admit to arguing, for that matter – that either of the Revolution’s high-profile acquisitions are paying dividends on the pitch this year. Bengtson’s scoring troubles have relegated him to the bench with alarming frequency, and Cisse’s inability to stay healthy – or even resemble a six-figure signing in Open Cup play – has suffered him a similar fate. But to see both of their names absent from the 18 on Saturday, was surprising. After all, what are the Revolution paying these players – both of whom were presumably healthy – to do? Act as high-profile spectators? Of course, part of the reason is the emergence of players like Caldwell, Imbongo and Barrett. All three have thrust their flags into the ground for more playing time. But even so, it’s telling that neither Bengtson, nor Cisse, were worthy of a spot on the 18 in a crucial mid-season match.

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