New England Soccer Today

Technically Speaking: #MTLvNE

Photo credit: Kari Heistad/capturedimages.biz

Photo credit: Kari Heistad/capturedimages.biz

Welcome to the latest installment of “Technically Speaking,” where our very own resident coach and former pro Rick Sewall takes a deeper look into the Revolution’s latest performance.

Have any questions you’d like Rick to address? Feel free to ask away in the comments section below.

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1. What did you make of the lineup Jay Heaps went with against Montreal? What, if any, changes would you have made?

Rick: In making this lineup, coach Jay Heaps, I believe, was looking toward and planning for the playoffs. One change (Teal Bunbury for Diego Fagundez) did not constitute a significant change in player quality, although the prospect of keeping a very confident, high-performing Diego off the field must have weighed on Heaps’ mind. The other change (Steve Neumann for Scott Caldwell) was a little more surprising. But I believe it (like Bunbury for Fagundez) was made for a good reason – to rest both players. They both play positions that require a lot of running, and considering the fact that the Revs had three games in a seven-day stretch, a rest for these players was a smart coaching decision.

Some might question his choice of Neumann instead of, say, Andy Dorman. Neumann hasn’t played too much this season, so I’m guessing Heaps thought it would be a good time to give him more of a look and to make him game-fit. After all, he might need him in the playoffs.

This game against Montreal was far from critical. Heaps’ approach to it, as reflected in his lineup, seemed to me far-sighted and, therefore, appropriate.

2. Saturday’s game was the third in seven days for center backs Andrew Farrell and Jose Goncalves. How big of a task is it for center backs, in particular, to play that amount of minutes in such a short period of time?

Rick: If there is any position in soccer (besides goalkeeper, of course) that demands less running than others, it is center back. This is especially true given the tandem center back system the Revs (and most other teams) are playing. Though it doesn’t require so much running, it does require precise positioning and close coordination – center backs must have total confidence in each other. The defense can fall apart if either Goncalves or Farrell is even one step out of position.

So playing three games in a week from a physical standpoint is not a major problem, but it definitely can be from a concentration standpoint. Staying focused for a full 90 minutes can be a challenge under the best of circumstances. Add fatigue into the picture, and lapses are going to happen. It seemed to me the center backs really lost focus starting around the 72nd minute, allowing Montreal three great chances in three minutes (the last of which went in the goal), despite being up a man.

3. It seemed like the Revolution attack withered in the final third. What more could they have done to test the Impact back line?

Rick: The Impact scored their first two goals on deflections. This good fortune resulted from shooting the ball low, hard, and on-target in a driving rain. The Revs should have done the same thing – shoot for luck. Dealing with simple balls in wet conditions is a problem for keepers, as shown by Bobby Shuttleworth’s mishandling of Didier Drogba’s cross in the 70th minute. Unfortunately, most of the Revs’ shots missed the goal, whether from poor technique or from their tendency to aim for a corner. Rarely does one see a Revolution player shoot from outside the area with single-minded focus on putting the ball on target.

The Revs were also unable to capitalize on many fine Chris Tierney crosses. The most effective aerial threat the Revs have is Juan Agudelo. Having him in for the whole game, bolstering Charlie Davies, might have been the way to go.

4. In what ways did Didier Drogba impact the game, other than the goal and the assist?

Rick: Didier Drogba, a 37-year-old, “over-the-hill player,” had a profound effect on the game beyond his well-taken goal and his elegant assist. The Rev defense was strangely polite to him. This was most evident before his assist on the third goal when both Goncalves and Farrell first let him bring down a long ball, then almost courteously backed away as he made the killer pass to Dilly Duka. Drogba made the whole sequence look easy. I guess that’s the sign of a superstar.

Beyond that sequence, Drogba nearly scored in the 15th minute on a well-taken shot from outside the area (which required a nice save from Shuttleworth) and in the 41st minute on a header to goal. He made several passes that could easily have resulted in goals, notably in the 36th minute on a pass to Calum Mallace, on a through pass in the 50th minute, and on a 56th-minute steal and pass. In the 27th minute he blocked an on-target shot by Neumann, and in the 57th minute, he made a stand-out midfield header.

Just as important as these and other classy plays, he appears to be a great teammate. I vividly remember his performance in the UEFA championship game in 2012 against Bayern, when he was playing for Chelsea. Bayern scored what appeared to be an 82nd-minute game winner, but five minutes later, Drogba – who had never stopped smiling – went on to score the tying goal on a header. The game went to penalties, with the Ivory Coast international scoring the winner to land the win for Chelsea, 4-3. His face stayed sunny even when the pressure was really on. That’s the type of guy you want as a teammate. A similar example? Former Revs striker Taylor Twellman.

Drogba’s huge grin after he missed wildly in the 24th minute shows me that he just plain loves playing. I believe this attitude rubs off on his teammates.

5. What stood out the most to you about Saturday’s game?

Rick: At the risk of harping: the game was decided by two deflected power shots. This is a classic way to score in rain, when the going is tough for defenses, especially goalkeepers. Good shooting from distance also helps open up and disrupt an otherwise well-organized defense. Despite these clear advantages, I can’t remember a time when the Revs have scored as a result of a deflection of any kind. The main reason is that they have no one on the team whose ability to shoot the ball low and on-target from 25-to-35 yards out instills fear in the other teams’ defenses. This is a capacity they should put real effort into developing.

2 Comments

  1. Bossoccer

    September 23, 2015 at 8:25 am

    Great stuff as always. Seems to me that Revs have adopted the short pass game so much, which has obviously worked so well, that they have forgotten about the long ball as you point out. But if you read 24 for 24, they point out Kelyn Rowe has a rocket shot that perhaps we haven’t seen enough of this year? Does he just need to be encouraged to do it more or is the Revs tactical approach and lineup discourage it?

    • Rick Sewall

      September 23, 2015 at 9:01 pm

      Bossoccer, excellent questions.

      Kelyn Rowe has two good attributes contributing to his potential to shoot the ball effectively from distance: 1) He has a strong kicking leg (although his left is very questionable, partly because he rarely uses it), and 2) He is clever at creating shooting chances for himself, probably the best on the team. His efforts in the 9th, 47th, and 92nd minutes prove that he has this quality.

      Where Kelyn has problems is with his shooting technique. His use of the inside of the toe to shoot, his circular leg swing, and his awkward follow-through leave him little margin for error. Instead of shooting on target once in the game, as he did on Saturday (9th minute shot), he should have gotten at least the 92nd-minute shot on the goal mouth. I’ll give him a bit of a break on the 47th-minute shot, since it was shot from the corner of the penalty are, but nonetheless the ball went wildly over the bar.

      The Revs’ offensive style of play involves a good possession game (one of the better possession attacks in the league) and getting the ball inside the area (or very close to it) before shooting. When they shoot, they usually choose a curve ball, to beat the keeper. These priorities are apparent when the team warms up the keeper before the game: all shots are taken at or very near the 18 yard line (just about every one a curve ball), with absolutely no shots taken from beyond 25 yards.

      An elegant passing offense by itself, though, is just not enough. Always trying to get the ball into the area before shooting makes for a far too one-dimensional (and therefore predictable) attack. Opposing teams that cotton onto the fact that the Revs are reluctant to shoot from distance can counter them by clogging up the penalty area on defense. This is exactly what the Impact did from their third goal to the end of the game. Other MLS teams should notice this.

      The way to beat a stacked defense in the area is twofold: 1) Go around it. This the Revs do well, whether with good passing attacks or quality crosses. Premium crosser Chris Tierney was man of the match for good reason. 2) Shoot from distance effectively enough to instill fear in the opposing defense and keep them off-balance, wondering what you’re going to do. This means having the technical capacity to shoot on-goal from 25 to 35 yards out. The team that can do this will draw defenders out of the area, and this alone can create scoring chances.

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