The Crew beat the Revs 2-1 on Saturday in a game I thought, for sure, the Revs would win. Two separate times – at both the 13th and 29th minutes, as the Revs nicely controlled the play – the thought came unbidden to my mind that I would eat my hat if the Revs lost this game. The Crew didn’t get a scoring chance for about the first half hour of play; the Revs, on the other hand, had quite a few. Maybe the problem was I don’t wear a hat, except at soccer camp in the hot sun in late August.
Teal Bunbury’s efforts resulted in several corner kicks and one golden scoring opportunity when his 11th minute shot was tipped over the bar by keeper Steve Clark. Diego Fagundez had chances in the 16th and 23rd minutes, Patrick Mullins in the 23rd and 27th minutes. All in all, after the first half hour, the Revs looked pretty darned good.
At this point, the complexion of the game simply changed. The Crew got its first excellent opportunity, with Bernardo Anor heading a superb cross by Chad Barson (off a great pass from Federico Higuain) just outside the opposite post. From this point on, the game was played evenly, with both teams creating excellent chances to score.
What disturbed me most here was watching Andrew Farrell make, at best, a casual effort to mark Anor, following unaggressively 2 or 3 yards behind him. This negative trend of not marking players in excellent scoring positions or on crosses continues to be a problem, especially on several crosses in the second half, notably by Ethan Finlay. Although no Crew goals were scored this way, it would really behoove the Revs’ staff to take this situation firmly in hand. The problem is obvious.
Why did the Crew win the game? Two reasons come immediately to mind:
1) In Higuain they had the best player on the field. He not only was able to fill his role as the Crew’s midfield general, but he was superb in dead-ball situations, scoring brilliantly on a free kick in the 44th minute. Even though the Revs out-corner-kicked the Crew 15-9, as a coach I would much rather have had the nine corners the Crew accumulated.
Higuain’s service from the flags were deadly – a class above those issued by the Revs. If you doubt this, ask Diego Fagundez, who had to block not one, but two Crew headers less than a minute apart while guarding the near post. Scott Caldwell could also take lessons from Higuain on how to side-volley a ball. Caldwell hasn’t a clue. I say this because they both had basically the same volleying chance. Result: Caldwell skied his, while Higuain hit a deadly line-drive bullet that luckily for the Revs deflected off a defender, wide of the goal.
2) The Revs simply did not pay enough attention to Ethan Finlay. Everyone in the park knew about his speed (what Brad Feldman called his “good wheels”), and that he was the Crew’s main scoring threat. He showcased his potential in the 36th, 56th and 75th minutes by making getting behind the Rev defense look easy. He sank the winning goal exactly this way in the 84th minute by surging past Darius Barnes, leaving the entire defense in the dust about 15 yards behind him, and then beating Shuttleworth to his left.
The combination of a poorly organized off-side trap and reactive rather than proactive man-marking has been a chronic problem for the Revs this season, and is a major reason for their eight-game skid.
Maybe it’s asking too much, but for me some of the sting of Barnes’s flub and Finlay’s resultant goal would have been taken away if I had seen any of the other Revs defenders scrambling desperately to recover in case Barnes got lucky and slowed Finlay down. I thought we Americans prided ourselves on hustle.
Pressure to win is increasing for the Revs. Maybe the best thing to say to the players, to take the pressure off, is – despite all the talk to the contrary – don’t jinx yourselves by worrying if the other team scores the first goal. All I can say is that the Crew let Montreal score first recently and still won. The same was true of the Kansas City – Toronto game. KC won. The only way the Revs will play well is to bear down and be disciplined on defense, giving the offense the confidence to relax and enjoy what they are doing.
I also frequently hear that the Revs are not scoring because they are unlucky. I would counter that, as I have said before in this column, “Luck is the residue of design” (Branch Rickey). If I were the Revs, I would pay a lot of attention to the design thing and be very disciplined in all areas of team preparation – technique (their weakest area – the players need it badly), defensive tactics and grit, strategies, conditioning.
Colorado will be hard to beat Wednesday.