New England beat Toronto 2-1 in an evenly played game Saturday in Toronto, marking the first time they took three points at BMO Field. Toronto lost the game in big part because of their tendency to make the big mistake.
Doneil Henry, the promising young Toronto defender, had a tough day, to say the least. His awful giveaway pass (big mistake) led directly to Patrick Mullins’ goal in the 24th minute, and his hand ball (big mistake) in the area resulted in Lee Nguyen’s game-winning penalty shot in the 82nd. Lessons to be learned? 1) Be very careful – never casual – when passing the ball in your defensive half of the field; and 2) when defending in your own penalty area keep your arms as close as possible to your body. Henry’s arm was at a 90 degree angle away from his body. Even if the ball plays the hand in this situation, as it pretty clearly did here, the referee has to call a penalty. There was little if any Toronto player protest.
Newly-acquired Michael Bradley and Jermain Defoe, two of several top-level MLS recent arrivals, were more or less contained by a disciplined Revolution team defense. Good team organization successfully leveled the playing field for the visitors.
Even though Toronto had a ball possession advantage of 60 to 40 percent, and a passing-accuracy advantage of 80 to 74 percent, as well as more scoring chances, the Revs deserved to win this game as much as Toronto did. Statistical superiority does not always reflect the nature of a game. It didn’t this time – and this game was as even as they come.
For the Revs, the two outstanding players were Lee Nguyen and Andy Dorman. Lee is growing more and more into the midfield leadership role, and Andy’s ball-winning skills and strong positional play make life relatively easy for the back four. These two Revs outplayed Toronto’s duo of Bradley and Bekker, with Bekker the weaker link. He missed connecting on too many passes, especially just before he was subbed about halfway into the second half.
Nguyen has moved into the upper echelon of MLS midfielders. Two particular plays can serve as examples. First, in the 80th minute, he fed an exquisitely delicate pass to Teal Bunbury, setting him up for a great shot that could easily have been a goal. Not many midfielders have the creativity to make this type of play. Second, in the 94th minute, Lee dribbled through practically the whole Toronto defense before shooting, making them look bad. Another indicator of his dominance is how much of the ball he sees in the course of the game – always a sign of a high-level player.
Andy Dorman drew a telling compliment from announcer Brad Feldman when, in the 90th minute, he described him as “a destroyer.” He wins a million balls and breaks up play after play. It all begins with good defensive positioning.
The contributions of rookies Patrick Mullins and Steve Neumann to the Revs’ success in this game cannot be ignored. Mullins’ 24th minute goal speaks for itself as a high-level demonstration of skill. Neumann’s delicate diagonal chip pass across the goalmouth, intended for Tierney, helped draw the penalty when Justin Morrow headed it right to Mullins (very big mistake), whose shot hit Henry’s arm. Almost by themselves these demonstrations of skill justified the two rookies’ presence.
The Revs are winning games this season despite the fact that they seldom have the ball possession statistic in their favor. Since better ball possession usually results in more good scoring chances, the question is whether or not this lack of ball possession will catch up with them, because the Revs don’t get many chances by counter-attacking. So far this year they have overcome this problem through disciplined defensive play.
Shooting from outside the penalty area is only one way of scoring, but it is a critical weapon in any team’s arsenal, whether the shooter scores directly or indirectly, as when Jackson’s 30-yard shot deflected off Soares into the goal. Just getting the ball on target and shooting for luck with a good instep drive is all the shooter should be thinking about, not trying to aim the ball to a corner of the goal. I don’t consider shooting outside the area a Revolution strength, but I know they could improve with practice. The league appears to be quite even this year, so every point is valuable – and over a 34-game regular season, shooting for luck with good technique will add a handful of points to the team’s tally.
Looking forward to watching Clint Dempsey (the Texas Tornado) play next week, newly returned from England, where he won a lot of fans.