New England Soccer Today

Five Things We Learned: Revolution at Sporting K.C.

Lee Nguyen completed 85 percent of his passes in Saturday's 3-0 loss at Sporting Park. (Photo: Chris Aduama/

Lee Nguyen completed 85 percent of his passes in Saturday’s 3-0 loss at Sporting Park. (Photo: Chris Aduama/

It didn’t take long to figure out that the Revolution had absolutely no shot of getting a result against Sporting K.C. on Saturday. None. And it had absolutely nothing to do with the way Baldomero Toledo officiated.

Whether it was the 24 percent possession stat in the first 10 minutes, the 56 percent passing accuracy number at the 20th minute mark, the poor first and second touches, or their overall disposition for giving the ball away, the Revolution did well to play like a seventh place team on the road. And it continued through to Toledo’s three chirps.

But it wasn’t just the way the numbers had tilted so heavily in the hosts’ favor. It was how the Revolution played right into Sporting K.C.’s hands that was the most troubling aspect of their performance.

Right off the bat, the Revolution dropped back, ready to absorb the pressure and play for the counterattack. Granted, it wasn’t the worst idea in the world. But it soon proved that way after the Revolution failed at the basics, like completing a simple pass, or holding onto the ball for more than a split second, or tightly-marking the guy with the ball, or anticipating where an opponent’s shot will go. You know, the stuff professionals get paid to do.

Although the Revolution weren’t out of it at halftime, a point in which only a goal separated them from Sporting K.C., it wasn’t long before the mistakes and accompanying frustration brought them to the point of no return.

On Kei Kamara’s second goal, Soony Saad had plenty of time and space to deliver the cross, which essentially hung Kevin Alston out to dry a second time. Minutes later, Dimitry Imbongo picked up yellow card number one. Shortly thereafter, he collected yellow card number two, and his night was over. But he wasn’t the only one seeking an early dismissal, as Andy Dorman was issued a straight red for a clumsy tackle on Kamara near the halfway line. Repeat: Near the halfway line.

Sure the cards were salt in the Revolution’s wounds, but Toledo had very little impact on how the game played out. The fouls were nearly even (16 for Sporting K.C., 15 for the Revolution) and there was little evidence to suggest that Imbongo and Dorman didn’t deserve their punishment. Yes, he deservedly heard a few “ha-has” when he inadvertently ejected a bewildered Stephen McCarthy in stoppage time. But the fact is the Revolution have only themselves to blame for Saturday’s dismal performance.

After the game, Andrew Farrell said, “I don’t think we can take anything from this game.” He and his teammates are fortunate in that regard, as we looked at the tape and found plenty of material to talk about. Here’s the five that stood out the most.

1. Say what you will about Kevin Alston getting posterized by Kei Kamara twice, but he was the best option at left back. If the Revolution had any hope of getting a result at Sporting Park, they’d have to contain Kamara, the Rev killer (seven goals, two assists going into the contest) himself on Saturday. And Jay Heaps was well aware of this. So he called upon Alston, the speed merchant himself, to blanket Sporting’s elusive and physical forward. For the first quarter of the match, that matchup worked well. Then, it stopped working well in the 28th minute. Kamara soon realized that the best way to beat Alston was to drag him inside and make it an aerial battle rather than track meet. While Kamara collected two goals on the evening, it’s unlikely Chris Tierney or even Darrius Barnes would’ve fared much better. On the contrary, Tierney is an excellent reader of an oncoming attack, but doesn’t have half the speed Alston has. Barnes may be better in the air, but he doesn’t give the attack nearly as much bite as Alston does. Aside from Kamara’s goals (one of which probably could’ve been saved by Bobby Shuttleworth), Alston had a very good game. He completed 91 percent of his passes and actually shut down Sporting’s right flank.

2. Dimitry Imbongo is quickly becoming a liability. The second year striker has certainly improved his game during the last three months. He’s scored three goals in league play and his efforts have prevented the attack from completely falling off the cliff with Juan Agudelo out. But one troubling thing about the other blonde striker is his increasing propensity to put himself square in the crosshairs of the referee. In his last eight games, he’s collected been cautioned four times and red carded three times. Now, Imbongo doesn’t seem like a dirty player. He really isn’t. He just lacks the maturity to avoid mindless fouls, and that’s especially true when a referee is looking for the opportunity to book him. Baldomero Toledo, though he didn’t have a best night of his officiating career, repeatedly spoke to him early in the first half. Instead of taking the hint, Imbongo continued to play recklessly, and even after he was initially cautioned in the 53rd minute, he didn’t adjust his approach. He may be developing into a solid attacking option before our eyes but Heaps can’t be pleased with his young striker’s recent rash of yellows and reds.

3. The Revolution don’t have the physical presence in the middle of the park to stop or keep pace with clubs like Sporting K.C. If it’s true that games are won and lost in the midfield, then the Revolution can’t like their chances down the stretch. On Saturday, the hosts assumed control of the middle third early by stepping in front of nearly every Revolution ball from the back. And when they weren’t winning those balls, they were grabbing second balls and swarming the Revolution around the halfway line. Predictably, they succumbed to the pressure, and Sporting K.C. sent them to a not so narrow three-goal loss. Now, it’s been no mystery that the Revolution’s midfield has lacked a certain grit since Kalifa Cisse’s disappearing act, and Saturday’s loss was the latest, and perhaps, most painful reminder of that. While Heaps has attempted to mask this weakness with the 4-1-4-1, Sporting K.C. figured out that the best way to break it down is constant pressure from start to finish. Granted, not every opponent has the players K.C. has at its disposal. But that won’t stop them from trying in the coming weeks.

4. Jay Heaps may have a goalkeeper controversy on his hands soon. It wasn’t that long ago that Bobby Shuttleworth was having a season to remember. After a first half that saw him collect eight clean sheets and a save percentage that put him among the elite goalkeepers in MLS, there was no reason to believe that he wouldn’t enjoy the same success in the second half. That was until, well, the second half started. Since the midway point, Shuttleworth has given up nine goals in six games and has struggled to stop shots from distance. While Kamara did well to elevate and glance Soony Saad’s cross on his first goal, he was also helped by the fact that Shuttleworth’s reaction wasn’t exactly lightning quick. Making matters worse, Sporting K.C. scored on all three of its shots on goal. This isn’t to say that Shuttleworth became a mediocre keeper overnight. Not at all. It’s likely that he’s just in the middle of a funk, a bout of inconsistency that nearly every player stumbles upon sooner or later. But unless he snaps out of it fast, Heaps might be tempted to tab Matt Reis, who at 38, is still one of the better keepers the league.

5. Despite the scoreline, the decision to leave Diego Fagundez off the starting XI was the right one. It may have come as a surprise not to see the teenage midfielder in the starting XI at Sporting Park. After all, many coaches wouldn’t hesitate to start their leading scorer against a nemesis like Sporting K.C. But it was the right call for many reasons. As good as Fagundez has shown himself to be this season, a foul-happy Sporting K.C. wouldn’t have hesitated to mercilessly hack away at the 18-year-old. And while Fagundez is one of the team’s most potent attackers, his tendency to cut inside in the face of danger would’ve played right into the hands of Sporting K.C.’s central defenders. True, the attack was a punchless bunch for much of the night. But by starting Tierney on the left, Heaps took a more pragmatic approach against a team the Revolution hadn’t scored against in 430 minutes. The idea was to defend first, survive the pressure, then introduce a fresh Fagundez in the latter minutes and, perhaps, steal a point or three late. Obviously, it didn’t quite play out that way. But that scenario was much more realistic than one in which Fagundez lights up Sporting K.C.’s defense.


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