It’s often said that there about two different kinds of draws: a draw that feels like a win, and a draw that feels like a loss.
Generally speaking, a draw on the road feels like a win, and a draw at home feels like a loss. But Saturday’s draw against Dynamo? It felt like more than a loss. It felt like the end of a postseason push.
The Revolution entered the match on the outside looking in after the Union claimed an upset win over Sporting K.C. That, in itself, made the three points at stake in Saturday’s clash even more important.
Of course, it wasn’t going to be easy. Nothing ever is against the Dynamo, who’ve feasted on late-season fare for the past eight seasons. And the Revolution knew this.
But instead of making a statement on Saturday, the Revolution reminded us that the more things change, the more they remain the same. Yes, they are an improved side since last season. But they still stumble when the stakes are raised, and against the Dynamo, no less. The result? A 1-1 draw they didn’t want, even though they may have put on a good face about it after the game.
True, the Eastern Conference is about as wide-open as Sene was when Lee Nguyen set him up for the opening salvo. And yes, technically, the Revolution still have plenty of control of their own postseason destiny.
But when you leave two points on your home pitch before heading to Red Bull Area – where the next point the Revolution get will be their first - and Stade Saputo – a place where the Impact are 9-3-3 – that destiny doesn’t look so promising. In fact, the possibility of making up ground on the road doesn’t seem very likely for a side that’s winless in its last three games away from Gillette Stadium.
But who knows? As we’ve seen many, many times before this season, anything can happen in MLS. And maybe, just maybe, the Revolution can pull 3-4 points out of their next two. Unlikely, sure, but it seemed just as unlikely two weeks ago that the Crew would be ahead of the Revolution on the table on Oct. 1.
Anything can happen! So let’s dive into this week’s set of questions before D.C. United suddenly emerges from the grave and uses the 30 bonus points at stake in Tuesday’s U.S. Open Cup final to slingshot into fourth place. OK, maybe that can’t happen.
1. The Revolution front office should look long and hard at what Juan Agudelo did to the Dynamo defense on Saturday when searching for his replacement. For the first time since Taylor Twellman was terrorizing backlines, the Revolution have a legit, top-of-the-line talent at striker in Agudelo. So it only stood to reason that he wouldn’t be here long, with Stoke City to thank for his imminent departure. While watching Agudelo in action may be bittersweet for Revolution supporters down the stretch, the front office pay close attention to what Agudelo does that makes the attack tick. On Saturday, we saw a less-than-100 percent Agudelo stretch a Dynamo defense to its limits, which not surprisingly, allowed the likes of Saer Sene, Lee Nguyen and Kelyn Rowe to find more space to operate. With the ball in his vicinity, Agudelo is fearless, with a knack for getting his foot on the ball by any means necessary. And his strength? Well, not even Bobby Boswell and Jermaine Taylor could do much about the Agudelo Effect on Saturday’s game. Yes, we’ve seen all of the above before countless times. But to see it being done against one of the most scrappy sides in the league – a side Heaps wants to his club to emulate – should serve as notice that the Revolution would be wise to find a striker from the same mold, preferably from within MLS, to fill Agudelo’s shoes next season.
2. The defense giveth, and the defense taketh away. Once upon a time not long ago (see: first half of 2013 season) the Revolution accumulated points by shutting down defenses as the attack struggled to score. Along the way, the Revolution defense became one of the fiercest in MLS, and collected 10 clean sheets in its first 17 games. But in the last few weeks, the defense has been a shadow of its former self. It hasn’t been terrible, but it hasn’t been great, either. Since the halfway point of the season, the Revolution have only collected two clean sheets, and zero in its last six. While the attack has picked up some of the slack, the fact is that, traditionally, this is the time of the year in which a club relies on its defense to see itself through to the postseason. But as we saw on Saturday night, another soft goal forced the Revolution to settle for only one point, and at home no less, in the middle of a postseason push. You know what happens to teams that leave points on their home pitch? They get bounced from contention, usually. After a successful first half of the season, it could very well turn out that if the Revolution do manage to advance to the postseason, it’ll probably be in spite of their defense, rather than because of it.
3. Lee Nguyen absolutely deserved man of the match. More often than not, the goalscorer or goalkeeper gets the MOTM honors in low-scoring game. After all, the man between the sticks is often responsible for eking out a point, or the goalscorer for delivering his side to either a win or important point. But in Saturday’s 1-1 draw, the voters voiced their opinion and gave neither the goalscorer nor the goalkeeper the MOTM honors. Rather, they gave it to the player most deserving – Nguyen. For 90 minutes, the creative winger turned box-to-box midfielder connected on 77 percent of his passes – a respectable number against a tough Dynamo side - collected 39 passes, registered four key passes as the Revolution attempted to break the hold Houston had on them. Oh, and of course, there was the pretty assist on Saer Sene’s goal in the 64th minute. More often than not, Nguyen’s efforts have been overlooked this season. We all know that he’s no longer the creative winger he was last season, and his selfless attitude toward strengthening the spine hasn’t yielded an attractive offensive stat line. But on Saturday, he finally got the credit he’s long deserved.
4. We may have just witnessed the pragmatic side of Jay Heaps. We’ve seen it time and again over the past two seasons: whether the are ahead, level, or behind, Heaps has had no issue whatsoever sending in offensive reinforcements late in the hopes of keeping the pressure on the opposing defense. Whether the score was 1-1, 2-1, or 3-0, you could count on an attacking sub coming off the bench in the final half hour. On Saturday, we saw Agudelo spell Dimitry Imbongo in the 62nd minute, and even though the opening goal arrived shortly thereafter, it would be the only sub Heaps would make. Not long after Sene’s strike, the Dynamo made a tactical switch, going 3-5-2 in search of the equalizer, which they found in the 76th minute. But instead of bringing on another weapon off the bench, Heaps declined to make any more substitutions, even though he had two potential game-changers at his disposal in Chad Barrett and Charlie Davies on the bench. So what happened? Did Heaps see what the Dynamo were doing and realize that the personnel on the pitch gave the Revolution the best chance at getting a result? Perhaps. Then again, maybe Heaps, like many of his contemporaries, simply goes conservative when the stakes are raised.
5. While their form on set pieces didn’t do them any favors, the fact the Revolution couldn’t stretch the field played right into the Dynamo’s hands. Ineffective attacking set pieces have long been a talking point for the Revolution in recent years, and not surprisingly, Heaps discussed the topic at length following Saturday’s match. Although Chris Tierney came close to converting in the 39th minute, the reality is that the Revolution could’ve made the Dynamo pay after conceding a handful of dead ball opportunities inside the final third. While those missed opportunities certainly didn’t aid their cause, another obvious problem area was the Revolution’s inability to stretch the Dynamo defense for much of the match. True, they’ve struggled with width all season, with Andrew Farrell’s entertaining adventures along the right and Tierney’s hesitancy to take it to the endline. But against the Dynamo, the Revolution had find a way to figure out a way to untangle themselves in the middle and final thirds, and additional width would’ve gone a long way, especially after Will Bruin’s goal. The Revolution needed three points, and Heaps could’ve looked toward Davies or even Andy Dorman to provide width late. Instead, the decision was made to keep trying what wasn’t working in the first half.