In a game that reminded me a lot of last year’s home opener against Sporting Kansas City, the Revs and Whitecaps played to a scoreless tie in Saturday’s home slate debut.
Both teams hardly employed attractive play given the difficult conditions. It was windy, on a slightly-undersized field with a hard, low-quality artificial surface. Often, the game deteriorated into a long-ball kicking match. The ball seemed to bounce around in the air a lot more than it rolled on the ground.
Possession play was in evidence, but as an exception rather than the rule. I have a strong image in my head of the person keeping the possession statistic tearing his hair because the ball changed hands so frequently. It certainly was not the “beautiful game” that’s possible when playing on natural grass with proper field dimensions. I watched some of the Real Salt Lake-LA Galaxy game at 4:00 and was soothed – because of the playing surface, the game was a pleasure to watch.
Based on their first-half performance, the Revs should have won. They came out loaded for bear, keeping the ball in the Whitecap half much of the time, especially in the first ten minutes.
Whitecap keeper David Ousted was seriously challenged several times in the half. He made a truly great save on an Andy Dorman header in the 5th minute. Bobby Shuttleworth’s only challenge came on a relatively easy diving save toward the end of the half.
The second half was more even, with both teams creating good chances.
I was amazed how frequently Rev players easily took the ball away from Whitecap players, even very experienced ones like Nigel Reo-Coker. I’m trying to figure out how much this was simple player sloppiness, how much the wind factored in, and how much the Whitecaps were flustered by the sub-standard playing conditions offered by the Gillette pitch.
A hypothetical question arises: Which gives the Revs a better advantage, unsettling the opposition at home matches with negative playing conditions, or having a properly-sized field with natural grass (or, less ideally, high-quality artificial turf) where they can practice a possession game all season, under the kind of conditions they’re going to meet most places they travel? I vote for the latter.
A soccer team succeeds by proving its proficiency in three areas: technique/skill (where skill is defined as applied technique), team tactics, and team strategy. I felt that for yesterday’s game the Revs took the right approach to tactics and strategy. Given the field and weather conditions they faced, playing tough was definitely the way to go.
Trying to play a consistent possession game is simply too risky at Gillette Stadium in the wind. Forcing mistakes by the Whitecaps by using constant pressure on the ball was the way to go and, by all rights, should have resulted in a win.
With tactics and strategy in the plus column, that leaves technique as the Revs’ likeliest minus. At the risk of sounding like a Johnny-one-note, I’m going to hone in again on power shooting a major Revs’ deficiency.
I counted nine problem shots yesterday. Three by Kelyn Rowe (in the 19th, 60th, and 72nd minutes), one by Saer Sene (in the 20th minute), and five by Diego Fagundez (in the 33rd, 67th, 79th, 86th – the swing and miss – and 93rd minutes). Lack of proper technique was easy to see in all nine attempts – floppy ankles, erect body position, non-existent or crossed-leg follow-throughs.
Rev shooters seem to demonstrate a basic lack of knowledge and proper execution in several areas: correct shooting-foot surface (ideally, and most consistently, the instep – though Daigo Kobayashi got off one good shot with the less reliable inside of the big toe yesterday), foot control (plantar-flexed, locked-ankle follow-through), leg follow-through straight to the target, and forward-leaning upper-body positioning, both before and after the kick.
Above all, shooters have to learn to focus on the ball until the end of the leg follow-through, much as a golfer or tennis player does. If you see a player standing up and watching where his shot is going, that’s a telltale sign that his technique has been faulty.
I was taught that good field vision and awareness are essential for all soccer players, with only one exception –that is when taking a power shot at goal. Then the player should be looking only at the ball, so focused that the field diminishes, from the shooter’s perspective, to the size of the ball.
Would proper shooting have made a difference in the outcome of the Revs’ game yesterday? Nothing’s guaranteed, but it is at least undeniable that, if a single one of those nine problem shots had whizzed past the goalie, the Revs would have won the game.
Anyway, have a cup of coffee before next Saturday’s 10:30 pm start vs San Jose – it’s bound to be interesting.