Technically Speaking: #PHIvNE

Photo credit: Kari Heistad/capturedimages.biz

Photo credit: Kari Heistad/capturedimages.biz

Well, well, well - what a difference two months can make! In the first game between the Revs and Union back in March, Philadelphia was the team very much in control, winning 1-0. Saturday’s game the polar opposite, with the Revs ending up on top 5-3 in dominating fashion.

What Philadelphia should have learned from scouting the Revs’ game against Seattle was that they would need a solid back four to stop New England’s cohesive passing attacks. Moreover, given injuries and the absence of Maurice Edu, they would be starting this game with a patched-together defensive line, the Union had plenty of reasons to adopt a cautious approach on Saturday.

Instead, they approached the game in cavalier fashion, and decided against making any adjustments. I would have, at minimum, expected them to consider pulling back a second defensive midfielder, playing a 4-2-3-1. Seattle’s defense last week featured USMNT-caliber players at left and right back, and two very experienced center-backs between them. Despite that, the Revs put five goals past them. The progress New England has made since the beginning of the season brings well-deserved kudos to both players and coaching staff.

Scoring ten goals in two games is an achievement that many teams never experience. The Revs’ developing ability to make the key, delicate pass when attacking the goal is a coach’s dream and in itself will result in a lot of wins.

For me, Lee Nguyen was the Man of the Match. He played beautifully against Seattle, but in Saturday’s game, he was a virtuoso. From little things like pressuring the Union defense with a lot of selfless running (at one point initiating the string of events leading to A.J. Soares’ header on Chris Tierney’s free kick), to slipping a fine pass to a cutting Teal Bunbury in the 26th minute which helped set up the second Revs goal, to his own goal on a nifty dribble and shot in the 49th minute, he looked more and more like the midfield generallisimo the Revs needed earlier this season.

I was surprised to see how easily the Revs took control of the game, and again at the beginning of the second half. They had two great chances in the 48th minute before Nguyen’s goal. Their fourth goal started with a combo from Nguyen to Daigo Kobayashi to Bunbury, who got fouled outside the area, precipitating Tierney’s authoritative 22-yard free kick strike in the 57th minute. The last nail in the Union’s coffin came in the 67th minute, when Diego Fagundez and Patrick Mullins combined for an elegant goal by the Revolution rookie.

With the score now 5-1, the last 25 minutes saw several good scoring chances for both sides. I’ll say one thing for the Union – they never gave up (as Seattle seemed to, last week). Their reward was a final score of 5 to 3 – a lot more respectable than the trouncing they seemed headed for.

From the point of view of team tactics, I would suggest that last week’s rout against Seattle resulted partly from a miscalculation by Sounders’ coach Sigi Schmid, who chose to adopt an all-out attacking style right from the opening whistle. It’s hard to say this was the wrong strategy, since they came very close to scoring. But I think they would have done better to start with a more defensive mindset – for two reasons.

First, they were playing a well-rested home team that has been getting more and more confident with every game and, almost more importantly, were coming into the game with the powerful psychological advantage that goes to the underdog.

Second, Seattle had played and won a game just four days before in Dallas, then had to travel to New England for a Sunday match. To me, they gave signs of fatigue right from the outset of the game. Probably the most flagrant mental mistake was Clint Dempsey’s careless 9th-minute back-heel in his defensive area. This was an unusual lapse for a player of Dempsey’s caliber (I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt in attributing it to fatigue instead of hubris). The ball went straight to Andy Dorman, whose cross could have resulted in the first goal of the game.

If the Sounders had played more conservatively from the outset, they could have at least avoided getting hammered for four first-half goals.

Second-guessing is exactly that, though. If they had started off defensively, people might be arguing today that they should have come out as aggressively as they actually did.

As for yesterday’s match, Union coach John Hackworth has been criticized in the past for playing too defensively. Was he perhaps reacting against those criticisms in deciding to attack from the beginning? Second-guessing again, with the weaknesses of his second-string defense, he would have done a lot better to follow his own instincts and ignore what the prevailing sentiment.

Five more goals next weekend? One can hope, but I’ll settle for a result.

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About Rick Sewall

Rick Sewall played four years at Yale University (1961 to 1965), nine years semi-pro for New Haven City (1966 to 1974), three years on the Connecticut Senior All-Star team (1972 to 1974), one year for the Boston Minutemen (1975), three years for Framingham Belenenses (LASA League, 1980 to 1982), and many years of over-30 and over-40. He has coached at all levels from kindergarten through college, including Boston Latin High School from 1986 to 1999 and girls’ club soccer from 1991 to 2005 (including two Mass. state championships) and runs camps and clinics focusing on technical training. A USSF B licensed coach, he was taught by, played with, and has coached with and for Hubert Vogelsinger, his primary soccer mentor, for over 40 years.