Igniting a Revolution

A quick glance at the box scores reveal the secret to the New England Revolution’s early season success: fast starts.

And after watching the Revs score all three of their goals this season before the 20th minute, Revolution manager Steve Nicol noted the importance of staking an early lead following his club’s 2-1 victory over D.C United on Saturday.

Matt Reis' good distribution helped lead to the Revs early goal on Saturday. (Photo by CHRIS ADUAMA/aduama.com)

“It’s huge,” said Nicol. “When you start the game level, you look to get yourself ahead. You don’t want to be sitting back and letting the opposition come at you, go ahead or have the initiative. It’s very important [to get off to a fast start].”

It’s been the Revs who have been putting their opponents on the back foot at the start of games this season. In their season opener, New England opened the scoring through Shalrie Joseph in just the third minute, helping the team earn a 1-1 draw in Los Angeles.

On Saturday, Zack Schilawski gave the Revs the lead in eighth minute and Joseph doubled it on a penalty kick nine minutes later before the Revs cruised to a 2-1 victory against D.C. United.

But while aiming for fast starts has always been on the agenda, the execution hasn’t always been there. Post-game press conferences and locker room interviews often sounded like a broken record in 2010 with many players lamenting slow starts and early deficits and speaking of the need to be ready to play right from the opening kickoff.

“Last year we were playing from behind a lot,” said veteran goalkeeper Matt Reis. “This year, so far, we’ve played in front. It just changes the game. The other team has to start attacking and if we could possess the ball a little bit more it would make it a lot easier on us.”

While possession is still a concern, as it was last year, the Revs showed marked improvement in the home opener against D.C.  and in the second half of the season opener against Los Angeles after struggling mightily to hold the ball in the first half of that game. The eventual return of Marko Perovic and newcomer Ousmane Dabo to the lineup could help in that department.

Holding the enviable position of playing with a lead has aided the club across the board in their first two matches of the new season. Grabbing an early advantage opens up the field a bit for the offense as opponents are forced to attack, while alleviating some of the pressure on the defense as well.

“I think just being ready to play [has been the difference],” said Joseph, the team’s captain, after the win over D.C. “Coming out here tonight, we know we’re at home and the fans were out there in a lot of numbers trying to cheer us on and get us ready for the start of the whistle. Luckily we got an early one from Zack and after that we just kept pushing and pushing to try to find a second one and it came from a penalty.”

“It feels good just being up 2-0,” he continued. “It helped us to relax a little bit and allowed us to play a little bit more.”

Some of that change in the players’ preparedness may be a product of the increased depth in the squad this year, which lends itself to fiercer competition for spots and forces players to consistently bring their “A” game to practice.

“I think we have a ton more depth this year,” said Schilawski. “The biggest difference is in training. Training’s really competitive. [There is] tons of competition for spots this year, which only makes everyone better. It’s been a big help for sure.”

Schilaswki is perhaps the best example of the increased competition in training this season. After he beat out veteran striker Ilija Stolica for a starting spot in the first two games, the second-year striker has shown increased confidence this year, challenging and beating defenders on the attack.

Perhaps it should come as no surprise then that the young forward has been the catalyst to the Revs quick starts. Schilawski’s hard work earned the corner that set-up the Revs opening strike in Los Angeles. The following week, the Wake Forest product found the back of the net himself against D.C.

“In any game, any team will tell you if you can start the game up a goal that’s big time,” said Schilawski. “Then you’ve just got to worry about finding the right spots, defending hard and trying to steal another one.”

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About Sean Donahue

Sean Donahue has been covering the New England Revolution since 2002 for various publications. He has covered four MLS Cups, in addition to covering various international matches, including World Cup Qualifying and the CONCACAF Gold Cup. He has done freelance work for the AP and ESPN Boston. Sean hosted Revolution Recap, a weekly radio program covering the New England Revolution and U.S. Men's National Team from 2005-2008. He is a member of the North American Soccer Reporters. Sean can be reached at nesoccertoday@gmail.com or followed on twitter @SeanLDonahue