New England Soccer Today

Technically Speaking: #NEvDC

Photo credit: Kari Heistad/

Photo credit: Kari Heistad/

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.

1. It seems like the M.O. among many visiting teams is to bunker in against the Revs at Gillette Stadium, an approach that worked pretty well on Saturday. What can the Revs do to better counteract this approach?

Rick: The Revs’ offense was, and is, offensively too one-dimensional. They need to develop a more comprehensive and balanced scoring philosophy. As it is, their go-to offensive method is to get the ball into the penalty area through clever pass-and-dribble sequences, then shoot for the corners, to evade the keeper. Their go-to shooting technique, given this overall strategy, is an inside-of-the-foot technique that puts a curve on the ball to hit the corners while keeping it on-target. I have no quarrel with this method of scoring. It certainly works, especially when combined with a fast break or semi-fast break.

One classic way to beat a packed defense is to go around them via the wings, get to the end line, and cross the ball for a close-range shot or head to goal. Partly because the Revs lack the fast and tricky winger required to put this strategy into practice, DC United was able to pack the area and shut them out on Saturday – and other teams will do the same. To further balance their offensive approach, the Revs should prioritize acquiring that fast winger, the one with the primo speed and finesse to beat a back to the end line and cross the ball.

Another way to counter the packed defense, as I’ve said many times in this column, is to get better both at scoring from outside the penalty area and at shooting for luck (especially through deflection) inside the penalty area. It’s a lot harder for the defensive team to pack in if they have to fear the long-distance shot. But to provide this sort of threat, the Revs need to be able to adjust their shooting technique on a dime, reverting to the classic instep drive.

The instep drive is the most fundamental shooting technique in soccer, the curve ball an extra-added refinement. The Revs, to my mind, are missing a real bet by getting this backwards – adopting the curveball as their primary weapon and not concentrating on mastering the most basic technique.

Arguably the most important fundamental when shooting with the instep is, as they say in golf, to keep the head down. For the shooter, the field has to suddenly shrink from panorama to the size of the ball – that’s where his total focus has to be. When, in extra time in the first half, Chris Tierney flubbed an open shot from just outside the area, it was mainly because of this lack of focus (especially important when striking a moving ball). For just that one player to have hit the ball cleanly that one time could have decided the game. For the whole team to shoot correctly for the whole game would completely skew the odds in the Revs’ favor.

2. When Charlie Davies exited with an injury in the 1st half, we saw Juan Agudelo come on, but instead of taking the striker’s role, he spent much of the match on the right while Teal Bunbury was pushed forward. Was this an effective use of resources?

Rick: I would prefer to see Teal as a wing-midfielder and Juan as a striker. Teal is more of a runner, which suits him to the wing, while to me Juan is much more comfortable in the middle. He likes to fool players wherever he plays, as he did in the 54th minute when he barely missed a nifty pass to Diego Fagundez that, if completed, would very likely have resulted in a goal. My instinct would be to use him as a withdrawn striker.

That said, the Revs staff may well be seeing something that I am not.

3. How would you assess the way GershonKoffie and Scott Caldwell partnered in the midfield on Saturday?

Rick: Caldwell and Koffie played together very well in this game, and their combined play is a major improvement over the seeming lack of communication a few years back between midfielders Sharlie Joseph and Benny Feilhaber – who, as a pair, gave nowhere near enough protection to the back four. Frequently I would see a gap of 30 or so yards between the back four and the midfielders, and always wished the Rev staff would make the proper tactical adjustments.

In contrast, Caldwell and Koffie played with defense in mind, one of them always protecting the back four (usually Caldwell, but not always), the other in a more advanced position to make an offensive contribution. I felt that neither player forgot that he was first and foremost a defender. The minor difference between the two is that Koffie is the better tackler, Caldwell the better passer (his 54th-minute penetrating pass to Agudelo was a gem, and nearly resulted in a goal).

4. Lee Nguyen’s shot off the bar, and Kelyn Rowe’s last-gasp effort wide of the post were two of the best chances of the game. Do you think those misses were a product of nerves, bad form, or just rust?

Rick: Both shots were taken from inside the area, and both missed the target, so it could be argued that the shooters were at fault for not at least making the keeper save the ball, but I think there were extenuating circumstances.

Both players might have productively whacked the ball as hard as they could and on-target, hoping for the best (a deflection in Nguyen’s case, perhaps, or nutmegging the keeper, in Rowe’s), but the choices each made instead were very likely better. Lee had at least three players falling in front of him and decided to shoot over them. Hard to criticize a player for hitting the crossbar. Rowe, shooting from an angle and under a lot of defensive pressure, decided to go for the far post and barely missed. Once again, hard to criticize the choice.

Parenthetically, both players power-shoot with the inside of the foot. I recommend using the instep with the appropriate focus and follow-through.

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

Rick: First, the fall out from the match being played on artificial turf. Maybe I’ve been watching too many European games this winter, but the frequent change of possession, the bouncing ball, the ball rolling out of bounds too often — these flubs take some of the pleasure out of watching the game for the fans and playing the game for the players. Sure, they result from technical imperfections — but those imperfections would be forgivable on grass. Imagine how unattractive golf would be, played on artificial turf. Even the pros would have a problem getting the ball to stay on the green.

Second, the game may have been scoreless, but it was good to see two well-organized defenses battle it out – a big improvement over the Houston game (and, I am sure, the LA game for DC). Both groups of center backs and midfielders were very good.

Third, Je-Vaughn Watson can run and could become an offensive force. He surely will if he can shoot the ball.

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