New England Soccer Today

Five Things We Learned: Revolution at Crew

Jose Goncalves, seen here during pre-game warmups earlier this month, scored the game-winner in Saturday's 2-0 win over the Crew. (Photo: Kari Heistad/capturedimages.biz)

Jose Goncalves, seen here during pre-game warmups earlier this month, scored the game-winner in Saturday’s 2-0 win over the Crew. (Photo: Kari Heistad/capturedimages.biz)

You could say that Jose Goncalves made his penance on Saturday.

Three days after his own goal gave the Rapids a 2-1 win in Colorado, the Portuguese center back made amends on Saturday by scoring the game-winner in stoppage time in Columbus. And for Goncalves, it must have felt like a sack of lead was lifted off his shoulders.

It was evident in the early scenes of Saturday’s game that Goncalves was in a hurry to put the mistake behind him. He charged up the pitch, spearing himself into the attack. He made life miserable for the likes of Dominic Oduro, Aaron Schoenfeld and Ben Speas. He came dangerously close to getting his name written in Edvin Jurisevic’s book. It was like all those texts about Jose Goncalves Facts come to life.

All that was missing was, well, a goal. A good goal, of course. A goal that would cap the night on a superior performance by the Revolution skipper.

If you look at the replay, a lot of interesting variables link up in the sequence that saw Goncalves score. First, there’s Lee Nguyen, who hasn’t been particularly strong on corner kicks. He punched a ball over everyone in the scrum save for Goncalves, who elevated to meet it with his forehead. It was not a particularly strong header. Yet, somehow, thanks to an artistic distraction piece from A.J. Soares and some shoddy goalkeeping from Andy Gruenebaum, Goncalves’ effort fell in. Goal.

Then there’s the celebration. We’re used to seeing Goncalves sport the stoic look throughout. The expression on his face following his game-winner? Anything but. What you see on his face is sheer joy and, perhaps, a pinch of relief. The weight was off. His team was probably going to win. And no one savored it more than Goncalves, who deservedly scored the game-winner after carrying both the weight of the own goal and, at times, the entire team on his back in Columbus.

Penance? You could call it that. Amidst an ugly, haggard-looking affair, Goncalves reminded us how poetically beautiful this game can be.

So, about that wretched match made somewhat digestible by two late goals – what did it even mean? What did we learn from it?

1. Jay Heaps flipped the script and went from reactive to proactive game management. Without a doubt, there was plenty of  blame to be passed around the table following the debacle at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park on Wednesday. While players were busy giving the ball away or putting it into their own net, Heaps and the coaching staff only made those problems worse with puzzling personnel moves. Three days later, Heaps made a bold statement. He didn’t just tinker his lineup. He razed it, then rebuilt it with six changes. Some of those changes were ho-hum (Rowe for Toja, Soares for McCarthy) while the rest were, um, interesting. Diego Fagundez was benched for the first time in nearly three months, while Lee Nguyen took a seat on the bench for the first time in over a year. True, it’s not the worst idea to rest players at the end of an eight-day, three-game stretch. Heaps hinted that he wanted a physical approach, so he went with two defensive-minded midfielders, and put Chad Barrett on the wing. OK, so that idea didn’t quite work out. But bringing on creative players late did. Nguyen set up both goals, while Fagundez scored the insurance strike. He who laughs last laughs the longest.

2. Even with the lineup changes, the Revolution’s continued inability to come out of the gate strong is going to cost them points. While Heaps may have assembled his lineup for a street fight, a familiar scene played out in the opening half. Despite the emphasis on starting strong, the Revolution found themselves getting bossed around by their adversary. Again. Last week, we talked about confidence, and about how the slow starts might be a byproduct of a team that doesn’t fully believe in itself, even if the individual players believe in themselves. This may yet be the case. On Saturday, though, it might have been a little of that, and a little but of a revamped lineup figuring itself out. But with the second half of the season in full effect, the slow starts, regardless of the reason, need to come to a close for the Revolution to make a serious run. The Crew launched a slew of serious threats in the opening moments, and were only undone by their lack of finishing ability. A stronger, postseason-worthy team would’ve punished the Revolution in similar circumstances. Hey, if the Revolution want to live dangerously, that is their prerogative. Who are we to tell someone how to live? But they’ll find the path to the postseason harder to navigate.

3. Lee Nguyen’s benching was an interesting sub-plot. If you believe everything Heaps says, then there was nothing more to Lee Nguyen’s assignment to the pine than employing a physical lineup. It was strictly a business decision, one that Heaps has never been afraid to make. But reading between the lines, there was much, much more than meets the eye to that idea. Nguyen’s struggles this season have been impossible to ignore, whether you look at his stats or see his newfound propensity to drop back, the latter a role allegedly encouraged by Heaps himself. Whether that’s the truth or pure window dressing is another matter entirely. It was plain to see that the creative attacker hasn’t been himself this season. Now, coming off the bench to aid the offense on both goals was a positive development for all parties. But let’s not get carried away. Goncalves’ goal was more about bad goalkeeping than stunning marksmanship. And Fagundez’s strike was set up by an egregious giveaway. Clearly, Nguyen was helped out by the Crew in his efforts to reclaim his 2012 form. However, given the way the starting XI played in the first half, it seems like Nguyen may be headed back to the lineup next week. Even so, it seemed like there was a message behind it all – one that Nguyen seems to have received loud and clear.

4. Some will debate whether three points was deserved, but the countless missed opportunities collected by the Crew essentially made them less deserving. Starry night it was not in C-bus on Saturday. Although the appropriate conditions were in place for stargazing in the state capital, the 90 minutes that unfolded at Crew Stadium was the stuff of black holes, death stars, and general intergalactic chaos. Where do we even begin? In the first 15 minutes, Oduro, Bernard Anor and Chad Marshall all conspired against their club with poor finishing. Then there was Will Trapp, whose passing prowess was suspect to say the least. The flopping? Oh, there was plenty of that too, as it appeared there might have been an impromptu audition for stunt doubles at Crew Stadium. Of course, what potent display of poor football would be complete without a dose of bad goalkeeping? Surely, Gruenebaum got the note, and proceeded to let Goncalves’ header slip under his arm. Now, all this isn’t to say that the Revolution played a sterling brand of soccer for an hour and a half. They did not. At times, their performance was reprehensible. But they did edge their opponents in the category that mattered the most: They made fewer boneheaded blunders.

5. A 2-0 scoreline may feel euphoric after consecutive losses, but the way the game unfolded, the Revolution didn’t stake a triumph as much they avoided disappointment. Not to sound like a sourpuss on what may have felt like a triumphant three points, but let’s not kid ourselves: This was a game in which neither team truly deserved to win. The first 45 minutes was littered with miscues, clumsy fouls and mental mistakes, and the fact that it remained scoreless at the half was almost entirely due to each team’s inability to get out of its own way. The encore saw the teams tighten up their form a bit, but there was still plenty of bad passing and shooting to go around. At times, it felt like a running loop of SportsCenter’s Not Top 10. A win is a win is a win, and sure, the Revolution won’t file an appeal with the league to return the three points they “earned” on Saturday. But don’t be fooled. This wasn’t the kind of game, scoreline aside, Heaps was looking for from his players. As noted above, it was an ugly game that, to be fair, neither team truly deserved to him. A 0-0 scoreline would’ve been the “just” result. Say what you will about the cries for penalties that went unanswered or the fouls that went uncarded, but the Revolution were lucky to get three points. They got the better of the breaks. But those breaks will only carry a club for so long.

***

We don’t typically end with an acknowledgement or post-script here at Five Things, but in this instance, we would be terribly remiss if we didn’t take a moment to mention the recent passing of former NASL commissioner Phil Woosnam. Woosnam was an original in American soccer in every sense of the term. He played and coached in the nascent league before he took his seat in the commissioner’s chair, and was considered by many as one of the pioneers of the sport in the United States. During his tenure (1969-83), the likes of Pele, Franz Beckenbauer, George Best, Rodney Marsh, Johann Cruyff, Carlos Alberto and many, many more high-profile players plied their trade on our shores. Locally, the Tea Men, Minutemen and Bicentennials all put pro soccer on the map in  New England under his watch. Although the undeniable popularity of the NASL faded quickly by the mid-80s, the legacy of the league, and the man who steered it to towering heights, is impossible to discount. Major League Soccer, and the success it achieved over the past 18 years, were all built upon the foundation originally laid by the NASL. And the chief architect was none other than Phil Woosnam, who passed away on Friday. He was 80.  

2 Comments

  1. Demetrios Tsillas

    July 22, 2013 at 5:26 pm

    3 games in 8 days. On the road. Coming off two losses. Yea, I would take a draw too. And despite how we all want the win right now, playing for that draw is a good plan and I’m sure that’s what Heaps was after. Didn’t help that Sene was out and Agudelo still out.

    Only thing I didn’t agree with is the timing of the subs. He sat on them for too long. Ten minutes earlier would have suited me better. But who can argue with the result.

  2. Brian O'Connell

    July 23, 2013 at 8:39 am

    Hi Demetrios,

    Thanks for reading. It certainly looked to like a loss-prevention lineup, that’s for sure. I was also surprised to see how long it took him to make changes after it was obvious that nothing was working in the midfield.

    Even after watching the game again, it still boggles my mind – were the Revs just that lucky, or were the Crew just that awful inside the final third? Three points is three points, but wow, talk about a terrible display of soccer for 90 minutes.

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