If you were looking for fluid, attacking football on Friday night, there was plenty of it. At Rio Tinto Stadium, of course.
Not surprisingly, the entertainment value of the Revolution-Toronto FC undercard didn’t quite measure up to the nationally-televised Salt Lake-Portland clash, which was good for NBC Sports, but bad Revolution supporters.
To be fair, the Revolution certainly started off on the right foot. Literally. When Diego Fagundez used his right orange boot to tap through Kelyn Rowe’s pass, he didn’t just put the guests on the board early. He offered hope to those who firmly believed that there’s no such thing as a pretty game when Toronto FC is on the field.
But that hope was fleeting. And, in a shocking development, it was the Revolution who’d successfully turn a promising game into an unwatchable match.
Instead of doing basic things like connecting passes, clearing the ball out, or marking the guy with the ball inside the 18, the Revolution seemed hellbent on making it tough on themselves. And while all that was taking place, Toronto actually played semi-decent soccer, which opened the door for Andrew Wiedeman to pick out a bouncing ball inside the Revolution box and deposit it right before halftime.
Maybe it was naivete. Or the rain. Or the fact that Toronto benefited from sound performances from Doneil Henry, Jonathan Osorio and Ashtone Morgan all in the same game. Maybe it was a combination of all three. Who knows? But whatever the reasons were, the Revolution did themselves no favors on Friday night.
Sure, a road point is a road point, and they’ll take it. After all, every point matters in the wide-open Eastern Conference. But this was an ugly game they should’ve somehow found a way to get maximum points from, regardless of their past failures at BMO Field.
Meanwhile, for Revolution supporters and random viewers alike, the 1-1 draw had to feel like 90 minutes of their life they’ll never get back.
So what did we learn from a game that only a Eurosnob could love?
1. Doneil Henry may not be one of the best center backs in MLS, but he may have written the blueprint on shutting down Juan Agudelo. It looked like it was going to be a very long night for Henry only two minutes into the match. After ushering Kelyn Rowe into the 18 to help set up Diego Fagundez’s ninth goal of the season, Henry dug in deep and kept Agudelo in check all night. True, he may have been helped by the fact that Agudelo wasn’t getting decent service. But on the occasions in which Agudelo was getting the ball, Henry used brute force and sound positioning to force him into some heavy touches. Whereas Amobi Okugu may have respected the talented 20-year-old too much last week, Henry wasn’t concerned about containing the 20-year-old. Instead, he went bold and actively shut down the Revolution game-changer until said game-changer had to come off early in the 78th minute due to an apparent injury. Henry wasn’t perfect, but he kept the Twitterverse free of the #swagudelo hashtag, and that in itself, is nothing short of a victory for any MLS center back.
2. The early goal seemed to give the Revolution a false sense of security. When Fagundez struck inside of two minutes, the Revolution had to like their chances. And when the 18-year-old nearly netted another before Joe Bendik denied him on a diving save minutes later, it looked like the Revolution were keen to rip off a third straight win. But with plenty of time for Toronto to get back into it, the Revolution uncharacteristically started to lay off the accelerator. Instead of asserting themselves and playing their game, they panicked, and played a number of wayward balls right back to Toronto. They conceded acres of space in the middle of the park and struggled to keep up with the likes of Robert Earnshaw, Jonathan Osorio and Ashtone Morgan, so much so that Lee Nguyen and Diego Fagundez were both booked before the hour mark. Although no one will complain about a 2nd minute goal, it clearly changed the dynamic of the game. Instead of pressing the issue, the Revolution were the ones getting pressed, and Toronto, to their credit, pressed hard enough to get an equalizer before the interval.
3. The Revolution were uncharacteristically sloppy inside their own 18. Another byproduct of the Revolution’s casual approach in the midfield was the number of shaky defensive sequences in front of goal. In the 27th minute, the normally-stout Jose Goncalves whiffed badly on a Morgan cross before it was quickly cleared away. In the 29th minute, Goncalves watched a Bobby Convey corner sail over his head. Another Morgan cross found Earnshaw, who was virtually ignored by A.J. Soares in 33rd minute. Granted, the likes of Nguyen, Rowe and Chad Barrett all could’ve done better to prevent so many balls from falling into the box. But by the time Richard Eckersley was readying himself to deliver a 45+2 minute free kick, the Revolution were sitting ducks in the pouring rain. They had no fewer than three different chances to clear Eckersley’s long free kick, but inexplicably failed to send it away. Instead of closing in on Wiedeman, a number of Revolution players were compelled to protest an apparent Toronto handball before the ball fell into the back of the net. Whether it was the right call or not, no team can expect to escape unscathed with the kind of undisciplined defending the Revolution exhibited in the shadow of their own goal on Friday.
4. The fact that Lee Nguyen went the full 90, despite an early booking and a number of ill-advised fouls thereafter, speaks volumes about Andy Dorman’s role on this team. If there was any player who was practically begging to come off, it had to be the foul-happy Nguyen. After he was cautioned at the half hour mark, the central midfielder continued to hack away at Toronto’s midfielders. Yet, even though it became readily apparent that Nguyen was a red card waiting to happen, Dorman remained on the bench, while the likes of Dimitry Imbongo (another caution-prone player), Saer Sene and Charlie Davies came on. To the untrained eye, all of those subs make sense. Three points was the objective, and all of those changes supported that goal. But with Nguyen doing little but becoming a potential liability, Jay Heaps decided to keep him on pitch, rather than taking him off for Dorman. Of course, Nguyen managed to avoid a second yellow, despite collecting a team-high five fouls. Yet, had referee Fotis Bazakos been a less patient man, Heaps would’ve faced serious questions about leaving Nguyen on the field. And some of those questions would’ve been about the coach’s confidence in Dorman.
5. The lack of a true midfield presence isn’t going to make the Revolution’s playoff push any easier. Not to harp too much on the midfielders’ performance, but if the Revolution believe that the final eight games aren’t going to be like Friday night’s affair, they’re in for a rude awakening. As Chad Barrett warned prior to last week’s Union contest, MLS teams don’t often play pretty down the stretch. Rather, they play results-first football, and the only style that matters is the kind that manufactures points. In other words, expect a lot more games to resemble the one we saw on Friday, which doesn’t bode well for the Revolution at the moment. Although Scott Caldwell is an emerging talent, he’s still a 22-year-old rookie. And he certainly looked like one against an inferior Toronto side. The fact is, when the going gets tough, the Revolution don’t get going. They struggle when games get reduced to glorified amateur clashes, as evidenced by draws to D.C., Chivas USA and now Toronto. Despite that, the Revolution may just find a way to get to the postseason. They just might. But don’t expect it to be smooth sailing from here, especially with teams like Montreal, Chicago, D.C., and Houston all on the docket for September.