The Red Bulls beat the Revolution 2-0 in a game the losers deserved to win, by every statistical measure. This only goes to show, unfortunately, how critical a couple of bad mistakes can be in deciding the outcome of a game.
The first goal, in the 17th minute, came off a Lloyd Sam free kick that was headed in easily by a totally unmarked Eric Alexander. Sam’s free kick was nothing special, a floater that should have been a piece of cake for Bobby Shuttleworth to field. The only trouble was that, as he came out for the ball, he bashed into Andy Dorman and was blocked from reaching the ball.
This was one of those awkward failures of communication that draw a lot of attention from spectators, but I would lay the real blame on the defenders who lost track of Alexander. Any attacker in position to score a goal must be watched and marked with disciplined concentration and a real sense of urgency. This shouldn’t be too much to ask at the professional level.
The second goal, in the 76th minute, came off a botched clearance of a Jonny Steele free kick (yes, another one), resulting in a picture-perfect shot taken just outside the penalty area by Pegui Luyindula, a veteran French player capped six times – just the type who needs a dose of extra defensive attention when he’s in scoring position.
Those two defensive flubs ended up being the decisive plays of the game because the Revs just couldn’t quite put the ball in the net, despite the fact that the Red Bulls were missing five starters – Tim Cahill and Roy Miller for World Cup duty (good excuse), Dax McCarty for injury (good excuse), and Thierry Henry and Jamison Olave because they don’t like to play on artificial turf (bad excuse).
The Revs peppered the Bulls with keeper-challenging, on-target shots. They created numerous scoring opportunities, and did their best to finish them. As chance after chance was frustrated, I was tempted to say it just wasn’t their day – but more accurately, perhaps, their scorelessness should be credited to the Red Bulls’ solid 4-2-3-1 defensive system, which blocked multiple Rev shots, and especially the stellar play by Robles.
In the first half alone, Robles faced six severe challenges: shots by Mullins in the first minute, Lee Nguyen in the 22nd, Chris Tierney in the 24th, Teal Bunbury in the 30th (followed hard on by his threatening cross a minute later), and Diego Fagundez’s sizzler off the post in the 44th. Another sign of Robles’ sound play was that, despite the difficulty of some of his saves, he gave up no rebounds. The only mistake he made was a single poor distribution early in the second half.
To mount my technical hobbyhorse about proper instep-drive technique one more time, and ride it: Patrick Mullins had a strong on-target shot in the first minute of play, but fell backward, oddly, after he shot. It’s a good thing for him that Robles did not concede a rebound. If he had, Mullins never would have been in position to take advantage of it.
The classic power kick (which Mullins had ample opportunity to execute here) ends with the shooter about 2 yards ahead of where the ball was struck. Following the shot then becomes easy and natural, especially if the upper body is pushed forward during the leg swing.
I advocate this technique over that currently in vogue, by which the shooter is instructed to land first on the kicking foot. This is not always wrong, but should only happen when the shooter approaches the ball from an acute angle or is shooting a rolling ball while running at speed. Landing first on the kicking foot restricts the follow-through and can frequently result in the placement foot, and leg flailing wildly and unnecessarily to the side.
For the orthodox instep drive, the ankle should be locked (plantar-flexed) with the heel directly behind the ball when you strike it. The heel, the ball, the leg follow-through, and the intended direction of the kick should be in a straight line, with the momentum of the kick carrying the player forward toward the goal, as well as the potential rebound.
Let’s hope the Revs have gotten their bad luck out of the way at this point.