Editor’s note: As a supplement to our “Technically Speaking” feature, we asked our resident pro and former coach Rick Sewall five questions about Saturday’s Revolution-Crew game.
1) Looking back at what transpired during Saturday’s game, what stood out the most, whether good or bad?
Rick: On the good side I would say Higuain’s dead-ball kicks, especially the 44th minute goal. His corner kicks, also, were very effective, the best I have seen since Neymar’s in the World Cup. But let us not forget the 50th minute Kelyn Rowe-to-A.J. Soares corner-kick goal. Keep in mind that Soares was close to the side of the goal box when he headed the ball. He should be very proud of this goal because it was a lot more difficult than it may have appeared.
On the bad side, the very poor Revs defense on Ethan Finlay’s goal in the 84th minute. The Revs have got to strike a better mixture of a high-line flat-back four with proactive man-marking. They don’t appear to be anticipating potential problems the opposition may create. Also see answer to question #4.
2) For the eighth straight game, we saw the Revs concede the first goal. At this juncture, is this stat becoming more of an indictment of the coaching staff rather than the players?
It’s hard for an outsider to answer a question like this with any confidence, but there are two ways I would lay responsibility on the coaching staff more than the players.
The first is psychological. Players, especially the younger ones, need guidance in situations like this, where the power of negative thinking has the potential to ‘jinx’ a team. Because of the many years coaches have been in the game, they are likely to have lived through similar losing streaks. Consequently, they need to figure out various ways to stop them. My own feeling is that the most effective way to fight a defeatist mentality is to focus hard on the essentials in training. In the Revs’ case, that would be making sure their defense is set – in position, focused, disciplined, and (above all) deadly determined.
Which brings me to my second point, which is tactical. To me, it is clear as day that zone defense combined with the off-side trap (the ‘high back line,’ as Paul Mariner calls it) is simply not working for the Revs. Their trap is inconsistent and undisciplined, and their man-marking in front of the goal is, often enough, little short of appalling. Runners are getting behind the defense too easily, and opposing players, even known hotshots, are given far too much freedom – not only all over the field, but even in point-blank range of the goal. (Similarly, in the England-Italy game in the World Cup, England was roundly criticized for not putting enough pressure on Pirlo, making it easy for him to look like God’s gift to soccer.)
Defensive failures obviously lead to a negative goal differential, but (even more importantly) a loss of confidence in team defense undermines the verve and poise needed to mount a creative offense. To get past their present defensive doldrums, the coaches should hammer away at Defense 101: positioning, anticipation, relentless focus and determination. And for God’s sake, mark the guys in front of the goal.
3) If you were Jay Heaps, how tempted would you be to make changes to the lineup and/or formation? What changes would you make?
With the unfortunate loss of Andy Dorman, the Revs are without a savvy and experienced defensive midfielder. They need a “game manager” who knows how to change the pace of the game. Jose Goncalves might be able to take on the role, but obviously this would weaken the back four, and who knows if he would be a good enough passer. Can Daigo Kobayashi tackle? If so, they might consider moving him back.
Speed at outside back remains a problem. I’d give Kevin Alston a chance at left back, especially with Chris Tierney out due to injury.
In terms of team formation, I would consider canning the 4-1-4-1 for a 4-4-2 (or 4-1-3-2). That second striker can be a major help. Put two players who work well together out there, and teach them how to shoot. Charlie Davies, as long as he is game-fit, clearly deserves a shot at one of these positions.
4) In the 84th minute, we see Justin Meram play a great ball through to Ethan Finlay en route to the game-winner. Who or what needed to be better for the Revs in this situation?
When Finlay began his run, it appeared that Darrius Barnes, Goncalves, and Soares were unaware of his existence. Barnes, who was right there and should have been marking him, got a late start, and Goncalves, who should have been offering some sort support to Barnes, was completely out of the play, as was Soares. The two centerbacks never should have been as far upfield as they were on this play, but their lack of determination to recover after they got caught with their pants down was especially disappointing. See also answer to question #1.
5) The players have said repeatedly that the best way to get out of this funk is to get that first win. This has proven to be a lot easier said than done. What does this team really need to do to get out of this slide?
First, I would ignore all the of the talk about the losing streak. Second, as I’ve stressed in my answer to question 2, I would make sure every single player, front to back, knows exactly what his defensive responsibilities are and prioritizes them. It’s time for them to crumple up and toss away the defensive mental laziness. Third, I’d tell the players to go out and have a blast, and I’d counsel Jay Heaps to sit down and watch them play. From opening to closing whistles, it’s the players’ game, and over-coaching during it is not going to do anyone any good.