With a short turnaround between the first and second legs of the Conference Semifinals, we decided to slap a couple of pieces of bread on our ”Five Things We Learned” and “Five Questions” features, add a leaf of lettuce and call it a sandwich. Or sammich, for those who like to call sandwiches “sammiches.” After all, who are we to judge? Whatever appeals to your tastes.
Anyway, to make the eating easier, we broke it down into segments, which should make the digestion easier. At least we hope so.
1. Saer Sene and Chris Tierney were sorely missed on Saturday. Generally speaking, the blueprint for beating Kansas City includes clamping down and staying disciplined in the defending third, winning second balls and stretching the field. One way you probably won’t beat Kansas City: playing direct, which is what the Revolution were forced to do because they couldn’t play through the midfield. And what really didn’t help them in that department were the absences of Chris Tierney and Saer Sene. Without Tierney, the Revolution barely utilized the left flank, as Darrius Barnes stayed back to defend, as he’s often wont to do. Sene’s absence put the onus on Andrew Farrell and Dimitry Imbongo to widen the field on the right. The results were, um, mixed, to be diplomatic about it. Props to the Revolution for figuring out a way to put two past Jimmy Nielsen despite their struggles. One love to Juan Agudelo for enduring the punishment. But the local XI can’t expect to find similar success/luck at Sporting Park by doing what they did on Saturday.
Question: How can the Revolution widen the field better on Wednesday? It’s clear the Imbongo/Juan Agudelo right side tag team didn’t exactly grease the wheels on Saturday. Neither gives the Revolution the width it desperately needs to untangle itself in the midfield. It’s unlikely to happen, but perhaps the best way to get more from the midfield is to put Nguyen back on the right, slide Scott Caldwell into Nguyen’s spot, and leave Imbongo on the bench.
2. Diego Fagundez was essentially a non-factor. To be fair, this probably wasn’t going to be the kind of contest the teenager was going to play a leading role. After all, it’s no secret that Kansas City loves nothing more than to cut down and foul undersized playmakers like Fagundez. So seeing Fagundez have an off-night wasn’t a surprise. Not only was his passing accuracy an un-Fagundez-like 42 percent, but he played without the flair or creativity we’ve come to expect after a 13-goal, 7-assist season. Check out his Opta heat map. Yeah, there’s not a lot of heat on it, especially on the right, which suggests Fagundez anchored himself to one side of the field. And when that happens, the attack becomes predictable and stale. True, it was his 55th minute shot that led to Dorman’s goal. But aside from that, it was an uneventful night.
Question: What can Fagundez do to become more dangerous against Kansas City? For starters, his first touch has to be much better. Although he wasn’t the only one plagued by poor touches, the standard has to be higher for Fagundez. He’s one of the most technically sound players on the team, and the Revolution are going to need his touches and dribbling to improve – which it should on Sporting Park’s grass pitch. He’ll also need to communicate with his fellow midfielders better, and get back switching sides of the field on the fly.
3. Matt Reis should be nicknamed “Matty Ice” after Saturday’s performance. The more things change, the more they stay the same. And that’s certainly true of the most-experienced member of the Revolution. While some insist he’s lost a step, the fact is that Reis continues to thrive when the stakes are at their highest. In the 34th minute, he boldly walled Teal Bunbury’s breakaway effort to keep it scoreless going into the half. But his masterpiece was the save he made on Dom Dwyer in the 90+3 minute. Not only did he exhibit just how quick his reflexes remain, but he read the play perfectly. Within that sequence, Reis reminded us why he’s one of there is at what he does: his ability to remain cool under pressure.
Question: Can Matt Reis rise to the occasion in the second leg? Ordinarily, the answer would be an emphatic “yes.” But concern exists going into Wednesday’s clash after Reis was listed as “questionable” with a left ankle sprain. How much this will impact Reis – if he’s healthy enough to start – will be worth watching. The injury didn’t appear to affect him terribly much after the game. Of course, at 38, it’s always best to exert caution when it comes to injuries, which might be the reason for the “questionable” tag. However, if Reis is healthy enough to go, it stands to reason that he’ll be healthy enough to perform at an elite level on Wednesday.
4. Say what you will about the turf, but the passing and first touches have to improve. There was plenty of grumbling about the state of the pitch after the first frame elicited a plethora of poor passes and terrible touches. Popular opinion suggested that the afternoon’s UMass-Northern Illinois gridiron clash essentially flattened the pitch, making for a faster-than-usual and unpredictable playing surface. While this may be true, that’s only a partial excuse as to why the Revolution were abysmal in the passing accuracy department. Both clubs had to play on the surface – even if it was packed harder than pavement – and thus, the Revolution have no one to blame but themselves for their inability to complete their passes. After all, Saturday’s contest wasn’t an isolated incident: the team’s passing accuracy was 64 percent at Columbus the week before.
Question: Should the Revolution be concerned about the basics at Sporting Park? They should be. Kansas City may have choked its way out of the postseason last year, but don’t expect them to play a tentative brand of football at their home park. As the Revolution saw during the summer, Kansas City is a club to be reckoned with at home. The odds of the local XI going with the approach seen on Saturday without watching their goal advantage vanish are too small to calculate. They’ve got to improve the passing accuracy, and hold the ball better. Otherwise, Wednesday’s second leg may spell disaster for the Revolution.
5. He may have scored, but Andy Dorman needs to do more to help the Revolution hold the ball. Speaking of improving possession, the one player who should be aiding the Revolution in that quest – but isn’t – is none other than Dorman. True, his 55th minute goal was just what the hosts needed on Saturday. And there’s no denying that his veteran presence gives the Revolution something they’re in short supply of with the stakes so high. But let’s be honest: there’s nothing pretty about his 60 percent passing accuracy stat, or the 13 times he was dispossessed. The Revolution are in desperate need of a steadying presence in their midfield. And so far, Dorman hasn’t done enough to prove that he can fill that need.
Question: Is it time to reintroduce Scott Caldwell to the lineup? While it may have seemed like the rookie started to hit the rookie wall late in the season, one thing that’s been missing in the last two weeks is his quiet consistency. While Dorman has given the Revolution midfield some much-needed physicality, it hasn’t quite translated in the possession and passing accuracy department. That said, Dorman should probably remain in the lineup come Wednesday, but it wouldn’t be surprising if Caldwell comes on at halftime should the aggregate remain 2-1.