In a game in which the referee lost control immediately after calling a phantom penalty in the 85th minute, the Revs and Red Bulls tied 2-2 – much to the chagrin of the former, who needed the three points a lot more than the latter.
Despite the 83rd-minute penalty call in their favor, the Revs ended the game feeling more victimized by Fotis Bazakos’ mistakes than the Red Bulls. In rapid succession, they had been hit by the Andy Dorman red card in the 86th minute, Luis Robles’ uncalled foul on Dimitry Imbongo in the 95th minute, and Bazakos’ decision to keep a bleeding Andrew Farrell off the field during the critical point at game’s end.
This flurry of dubious calls – and non-calls - may well have been intended to make up for the undeserved penalty shot, but – whatever the case – coaches and players at high levels need to learn to focus on what is in their control (playing the game) rather than what is outside their control (referee decisions). When they jump all over the referee, as both teams did in this game, they’d better be ready for anything: an overly hassled referee (except for the most seasoned professionals) can be bounced back and forth between the urge to mete out compensatory justice, and a less noble urge to stick it to the guys who are on his case.
A separate lesson: it is difficult to play against an experienced team with Thierry Henry on it. The Revs were basically bulldozed in the first half – clearly outplayed, and very lucky not to be down by two goals by halftime. The second half was better for the Revs, to their credit. They began to advance the ball effectively, especially after the 70th minute when, for some reason, the previously disciplined Red Bull defense began to lose toughness and bite. Suddenly, they were allowing Revs midfielders and others far too much freedom to advance the ball into danger zones, even when playing a man down. It was encouraging to see the Revs improve their play as the game progressed. It bodes well for the future.
Shifting back to some of the earlier moments: in the 10th minute, the Revs set up a wall with Diego Fagundez and Lee Nguyen guarding the near post, while Saer Sene towered above them in the middle. What a chance for a left-footer to curve the ball over the wall and into the goal by the near post! The Revs are violating the basic rule of making a wall – having the tallest player guard the near post, with the shortest guarding the middle of the goal. They’re just lucky the Red Bulls didn’t jump on this weakness in the wall.
Even as the Revs have begun to create more and more sparkling offensive plays, it is becoming more and more obvious that they lack the most basic ingredient of a first-rate, ball-possession midfield: the one dominant decision-making player who captains the offense, and to whose vision all the other midfielders and attacking defenders defer to some extent.
As presently constituted, the Revs are using three good midfielders – all of whom string together great individual plays on attack, but none of whom is that key man. Examples of the kind of key player I’m talking about, as I’ve mentioned before in this column, are Paul Scholes, Andrea Pirlo, Frank Reichart, Ya Ya Toure. Add on Carlos Valderrama. I don’t see any of the Revs’ present line-up of midfielders stepping into this role anytime soon. Perhaps there are candidates with the necessary vision, poise and experience on the bench, but for one reason or another, we’re not seeing them on the field.
The Revs should be commended for having one of the strongest academy programs in the league, but I don’t see them working to develop this key-man type of player there. This may be in part because they prioritize running their practices at a very high level of intensity. Simulating game-like conditions is certainly one important element in game preparation, but sometimes you have to consciously slow things down, to prioritize vision and controlled responses. When a player constantly experiences high pressure, he doesn’t have time to think or grow. I’ll bet that very few teams are making serious efforts to develop this type of midfielder, and that the Revs would have an advantage if they focused on doing so. I’ll also bet that there are at least a couple of players currently in the academy program who are candidates to be brought on in this fashion.
I take back what I’ve said about the Revs needing a new stadium. Let’s stay with the artificial turf at Gillette so we’ll continue to get home games next year free of Thierry Henry. He was in his own class Saturday. I’m sure Andrew Farrell would agree.
If the Revs beat Montreal Saturday, they have a fair chance at a playoff spot.