September 21, 2013
From: New England Revolution supporters
To: New England Revolution soccer team
Re: Postseason ambitions
Starting with Saturday’s home game against D.C. United, it is imperative that the defensive principles showcased during the first two quarters of the season be reintroduced. This includes, but is not limited to, timely tackling, limiting space, winning aerial and ground duels, tracking back after losing possession, and stopping shots, especially ones that come from outside the 18.
The data suggests that the these objectives should not be difficult to achieve against the competition at hand. D.C. is 0-11-3 on the road. They have not won since August 3. Therefore, we believe that Saturday’s match should present a favorable opportunity to incorporate the above principles. Note: This is a team that has only scored four goals outside RFK Stadium in league play.
It is also requested that the offense continue its increased contributions. A balanced attack has proven to be a success in recent weeks, and in order to acquire the points necessary to achieve a playoff spot, a team must find the back of the net on a consistent basis. As the saying goes, you can’t win if you don’t score.
Lastly, we understand that the officiating has not cooperated with your efforts during the last 2-3 weeks. We urge you to stay focused on the task at hand. Understand that, sooner or later, the soccer gods will eventually smile upon your resilience.
Recent upward movement of Houston and Chicago makes point acquisition in these remaining six games a premium. Upcoming road games in Montreal and New York won’t make it easy. Thus, now is the time to cut down on the defensive errors - before it becomes too late.
We believe that a renewed focus on defending, along with a continued growth in the goalscoring department, will spell success in the fourth quarter and, possibly, the postseason.
OK, now that the memo has been issued, let’s move along to this week’s set of questions.
1. Is Matt Reis an automatic start after last week’s debacle in Chicago? Bobby Shuttleworth didn’t exactly instill a metric ton of confidence among the fanbase during his return from exile last weekend. Another long distance found a way to elude him, and he probably could’ve done better to stop Juan Luis Anangono’s shot at the half-hour mark. In these respects, it doesn’t seem logical to send a goalkeeper who’s coughed up seven goals in his last two games another chance anytime soon. Not with the playoffs on the line, at least. But at the same token, Heaps has preached the importance of weekly matchups. In a sense, the lineup sheet, like the Constitution, is a living document. It must be strong, but malleable enough to fit the situation. That said, the situation before the Revolution is that they need big game players for Saturday’s contest. They need three points in the worst way. And in light of that, it would appear that, Reis, who could probably write a 600-page novel about what it takes to get to the postseason, will return between the sticks.
2. Who should start up top? Typically, when a team scores four goals in two games, they should come away with at least one point. Sure, three’s the ideal, but one is a must. Well, the Revolution have zero points, despite their recent offensive adventures. But after giving up seven goals in their last two, and the general consensus that the defensive woes are a byproduct of lack of team defending, it might be time for Heaps to try something different up top. Dimitry Imbongo started the Revolution’s last two, and has helped the attack, to be sure. But he’s also not the most defensive-minded striker, which may open the door for another option. Juan Agudelo, a much better defender (not to mention goalscorer) than Imbongo, would seem to be that option until you watch how gimpy he was last week as the Fire flooded the Revolution end. In light of all this, a surprise start may be on tap. Chad Barrett anyone?
3. Can the Revolution collectively figure out a way to keep D.C. out of the net? Yes, and it shouldn’t be all that hard. As noted above, this is a team that’s scored four goals away from home. Yes, that’s a four. Four road goals in 14 contests. If this were a test, it would be open book with all the answers highlighted and page numbers tabbed. Now, this doesn’t mean the Revolution should take this game lightly. To be honest, they’re really in no position after their last two games, regardless of the refereeing. In sense, this is a trap game in every sense, a winnable game that, not unlike their 1-1 draw in Toronto, did not end well. So keeping D.C. off the board shouldn’t be all that difficult. This should be an easy day at office. But if it isn’t, and Ben Olsen’s team finds a way to get there, well, the Revolution might as well throw deuces to the postseason.
4. Will Stephen McCarthy return to the lineup? Where there’s Matt Reis, there’s often A.J. Soares. And as we saw last Saturday, where there’s Bobby Shuttleworth, there’s Stephen McCarthy. These combinations haven’t always been the rule, but it’s certainly been a trend this season. Clearly, there’s something to be said about chemistry and trust between a goalkeeper and his center backs. But with Reis slated to resume his starting duties, it may not necessarily mean that McCarthy is out. True, no one on the Revolution defense played exceptionally well last week. And this is especially true of the tall center back, who played the role of third linesman while Mike Magee pulled away and scored a 55th minute equalizer. But one play shouldn’t seal a coach’s decision on the lineup. That said, with the Revolution needing to be stronger in the air, especially on defensive set pieces, an area in which they’ll have to be much better if they’re going to find a way to extend their season.
5. Can Kelyn Rowe continue his torrid form? It’s been a charmed, late-summer existence for the 21-year-old. Minutes after a missing one of the biggest sitters seen at Gillette Stadium back on August 17 against Chicago, Rowe made the most of his second chance in stoppage time, and hasn’t looked back since. In his last five games, he’s scored five times, collected two Goal of the Week nominations (winning one), picked up a Player of the Week award, and created a refreshingly new goalscoring celebration that doesn’t involve kicking innocent corner flags or wildly elaborate handshakes. Although he didn’t make it onto the” MLS 24 Under 24″ list, that’ll only, as Rowe tweeted, “add more wood to the fire.” D.C.’s defense should be good for adding a few logs of their own, especially on the road. OK, so maybe we won’t see the bonfire we saw against Philadelphia a few weeks ago. But with the worst defense in the conference in town, we might just find out if the canoe is abandoned for a poke at the 24 Under 24 omission.