New England Soccer Today

Technically Speaking: #NEvHOU

Photo credit: Chris Aduama/

Welcome back to another edition of “Technically Speaking,” where our resident coach and former pro Rick Sewall dissects the Revolution’s latest performance.

Have a question for Rick? Feel free to ask in the comments section!

NESoccerToday: How hard is it for a player like Kelyn Rowe , an attacking player his entire career, to make the adjustment to left back?

Rick: It might be difficult for some players, but for a versatile player like Kelyn Rowe, who has the bulldog-type instincts needed for any defender, I don’t think it was too difficult. The main job for a defender is simply to get in the way of man you are marking, and Rowe gave a good demonstration of just how this is done when he effectively held off Boniek Garcia in the 37th minute; he also did very well in the 39th and 40th minutes against Alex and Jalil Anibaba. Most important is that he appeared to relish the job. I have always felt that outside back is one of the most fun positions on the field, because your main job is on defense, but you never know when you might become a winger.

Remember Paolo Maldini, the Italian international left back who would control a game from that position? He was considered by many to be the best player on the team, so, if I were Rowe, I wouldn’t consider playing left back a demotion. I personally feel more secure from a defensive standpoint with him at left back, instead of Chris Tierney. And this may be just the right place on the field for Rowe to contribute best to the team effort.

With Rowe at left back this week, and with Josh Smith playing center back these last two weeks, it seems like Jay Heaps is putting together his backline based on matchups. Is this a good thing, or should there be a set back four?

Rick: I have rarely been as confident in a Revs defense as this one. The fact that Cody Cropper was seriously tested only once in this game – by Torres’s 61st minute breakaway – supports this feeling on my part. Xavier Kouassi, Josh Smith, Antonio Mlinar Delamea, Andrew Farrell, and Rowe are showing a nice balance of age, speed, mental confidence, and experience. I would argue that this should be a set alignment, especially against teams who like to attack down the right side with a speedy and tricky winger. I can’t see tinkering much further with this defense.

With Tierney subbed out early last week, and out of the lineup this week, it seems like his role might be diminishing. If so, how would you tweak the offense without having the benefit of his crosses and set-piece prowess? How about the lateral running of the strikers?

Rick: First, I would have Rowe spend a lot of time practicing his left-footed crosses – first with stationary balls, then with rolling balls, and, finally, while running at speed. As a coach, I would have him work at this for at least a half hour before or after the regular practice until he feels comfortable with the technique. Last year he scored with his left foot so this should be doable.

I also would emphasize there be no more sloppy outside-of-the-right-foot crosses like the dud he attempted in the first half of this game.

Lots of lateral running is an important contribution by the strikers because (1) it demands a lot of work from opposing defenders, and (2) by doing so, it draws the defenders out of position. In this game, both Kei Kamara and Juan Agudelo worked this angle to great effect, helping the Revs gain control of the game as the first half progressed. It looked to me as if they were enjoying themselves. This active strategy is more effective than spending too much time in front of the goal, waiting for crosses (a static style that makes your offense too predictable, and the marking job for opposing defenses a lot easier).

As a striker, with Tierney playing instead of Rowe, I might choose to hang out more in front of the goal – Tierney’s crosses are worth waiting for. With Rowe, knowing that he is probably (appropriately) more focused on his defensive responsibilities than on the overlap, I would do more lateral running to compensate for a diminished offensive role by the fullback.

Comments on play at the beginning of the second half, an oldish Houston team, and long-distance shooting?

Rick: When I played in the Connecticut league in the 60’s and 70’s, players were from mostly southern European countries – Greece, Italy, and Portugal. My own team, New Haven City, was Italian.

The Portuguese teams all capitalized on a smart tactic, anticipating a possible let-down in focus from an overly-relaxing halftime on the part of the opposition and taking advantage of it by coming at them in full-force blitz at the start of the second half. This is the tactic the Revs seemed to apply against Houston on Saturday, with excellent results. Within six minutes they had a goal. They may not have thought of the tactic as particularly Portuguese, but they were certainly in control to begin the second half.

Houston at times looked like an over-thirty team. Given that Adolfo Machado, Boniek Garcia, and Ricardo Clark are all over 30 (32, 32 , and 34, respectively), and Jalil Anibaba, Eric Alexander, and Alex are all 28, it’s perhaps no wonder the Revs occasionally embarrassed them with their speed, especially Diego Fagundez around the 50th minute. They appeared to be a half-step behind the quick Revs for much of the game.

Twice in the 48th minute, and again in the 49th and 54th minutes, the Revs took four shots from outside the area, by Fagundez, Lee Nguyen (2), and Scott Caldwell. This may have been a new team record for the number of shots taken from outside the area in six minutes. The trouble was that every one missed the target. How can this result be improved upon?

First, when shooting from outside the area with a power shot, the idea is only to shoot the ball low and on target. Don’t aim for the corners. Whack the ball, and give yourself a good margin for error. A ball shot on target is also likely to create goals by deflection. If the keeper makes an easy save, so be it. Your odds for scoring are still better when shooting on-target than when aiming for a corner.

Second, the ball, obviously, must be directed better. For this purpose, the shooter should follow through in the intended direction of the ball, never crossing the legs, and keeping the ankle locked. He should also try to hop forward on the placement foot at the end of the follow-through (this is called the magic-hop follow-through). This method goes against one orthodoxy, that you should land on your kicking foot, and I know the magic hop is not always “on”, especially when approaching the ball from an acute angle or at speed. Nonetheless, teaching the power shot using the magic hop helps the kicker to control the direction of the ball because his follow-through is absolutely under control.

The Rev kickers, especially Nguyen, seem to be totally unaware of the negative effect of a slapdash follow-through. Both his shots from outside went wild, specifically because of his careless follow-through. He really should have sunk at least one of these.

Use of the magic hop additionally contributes to power through added involvement of the hip flexor muscle and keeps the shooter on balance, making it easy to follow a saved shot for that magical push-in. When is the last time you saw a Revs player (or a U.S. Men’s National Team member for that matter) follow his shot, get a nice rebound, and score an easy goal? The way these guys shoot seriously diminishes the possibility of this happening.


  1. Steve Sherlock

    April 11, 2017 at 9:45 pm

    As soccer is a game of possession, what do you say about the goalie restarts? Specifically in the game against Houston, the Rev’s Cropper was kicking downfield into the wind and by my count the Revs turned over 8 of the 10 he put in the air. The one time he put it on the ground, the Revs kept that. Shouldn’t there be an adjustment especially to account for the wind?

  2. Rick Sewall

    April 12, 2017 at 8:12 am

    Steve, thanks for the question. I agree that playing from the back with possession is the ideal way to get the ball upfield- most professional teams try to play this way. The trouble is that mistakes in your defensive end can be costly, and they are likely to happen more often on a windy day when playing on an artificial surface. It takes skillful and experienced players to really do it right. Avoiding mistakes is probably the reason why the Revs opt to punt the ball away, with the thinking , most likely, that it is better to lose the ball in your offensive end fairly often than it is to lose it occasionally in your defensive end.

    I think long punting (and goal kicking) ideally should be used as a surprise move, especially if you have a sniper like Jamie Vardy up front. When doing this , to be really effective , the punter should kick blue darts- line drives- so the ball gets to the intended target as quickly as possible, the idea being to catch the defense out of position.

    Hope this answer suffices.

  3. Rick Sewall

    April 12, 2017 at 10:56 am

    Further- if an opposing team is laying back and meeting my team around midfield I would usually play possession from the back. If I am playing at team whose forwards and midfielders are applying high pressure and are good at it I would usually punt the ball to clear the air and to get a brief rest.

    A lot depends on the score-if my team is ahead by a goal with 3 minutes to play and the other team pressuring effectively, I would almost always punt.

    Always remember that, in soccer , nothing is ever etched in stone.

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