New England Soccer Today

Technically Speaking: #CHIvNE

Photo credit: Kari Heistad/capturedimages.biz

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!

NEST: What were your initial thoughts when you saw Je-Vaughn Watson at left back instead of Kelyn Rowe, who you mentioned handled himself well last week vs Houston?

Rick: I was disappointed because I was curious to see whether Kelyn Rowe could put two good games together at the LB position against what was very likely going to be better attacking players than he faced vs Houston. I would have worked extensively with him at practice at lateral movement, turning, getting in the way of the dribbler, and doing what he could to block crosses (it is better to concede a corner than it is to let the ball go in front of the goalmouth in the run of play). Unfortunately, when he did go in, his failure to block a cross led to the second goal. It takes a lot of concentration to prevent this. You need training, and you can’t be casual.

I don’t know what goes on in Revs’ practices, so it’s certainly possible Jay Heaps had a good reason to start Je-Vaughn Watson. I understand he said in an interview he was hoping to maximize midfield ball-winning. The Watson choice obviously backfired, so I’m kind of Monday-morning-quarterbacking to say I don’t really see this as enough reason to make this choice. I would have started Diego Fagundez at left midfield and told him to go out and do as much damage as he could. With his energy, the ball winning would have had a good chance of happening, without unsettling the back five. I would have started with the cohesive starting XI that did well against Houston.

I hope Rowe gets another shot at left back. I still think it may be best for him and the team, especially if they put in the effort to train him up.

After going down to 10 men due to Watson’s dismissal, what could the Revs have done better to stay in the game and possibly get a point?

Rick: To succeed while a man down, a team should try to play possession soccer for as long as they can before resorting to just kicking the ball away to safety. As it was, kicking the ball to safety was the Revs’ go-to strategy. They seemed to have no inclination to hold the ball as a team, often kicking the ball upfield as if with the sole object of belting it as far as they possibly could. Even when they did pass the ball purposely, it was to advance the ball, rarely toward their own goal or laterally, for possession. Too often this style of play resulted in easy turnovers.

In 1994, the U.S. Men’s National Team played Brazil in the Round of 16 at the World Cup. Because of the infamous Leonardo cold-cock of Tab Ramos, Brazil played a man down for the whole second half. Nonetheless, they controlled the play in terms of possession, scored a goal, and won the game 1-0 (and went on to win the World Cup). Of course, a big part of why they won the game was because they had better players. But after the game they did say that they frequently practiced playing a man down.

What did you make of the second half subs? Was Jay Heaps still trying to get a result, or was he saving legs for Wednesday’s game?

Rick: Because Heaps used all three subs fairly early in the second half, taking out his best three scoring prospects (Juan Agudelo, Kei Kamara, and Lee Nguyen)—the last one at the 66th minute—I would say he had to have been concerned to save legs for the next game. In fact, in my view, the Revs were out of the game when well before the 26th-minute red card, right from the moment Bastian Schweinsteiger made that great pass to the right wing in the 12th minute. That’s about when the Chicago possession-dominance really started.

I think Heaps recognized early that the Chicago midfield of Dax McCarty, Juninho, and Schweinsteiger was too much for the Revs to handle. Any result was at best a remote possibility, so I can’t fault Heaps’ decision to sub early.

A lot was said about how this game was going to be decided in the midfield. Prior to Watson’s dismissal, how did you think the Revs’ midfield performed against Chicago’s?

Rick: The trio of McCarty, Juninho, and Schweinsteiger was impressive, to say the least—not surprising considering that they are all bona fide prime MLS players. The Revs began pretty well, but it wasn’t long before Chicago took full control. The Revs’ midfield possession after the 15th minute was so limited you could hardly tell much difference before and after the 26th-minute red card. The only conclusion I can come up with is that the Revs were outclassed.

What stood out the most about Saturday’s loss?

Rick: Anyone who saw the ending of the LA-Orlando City game could have seen what the Revs are currently missing—a true field-generalissimo who sees 360 degrees of play, can make the long pass, can shoot from outside the area, and makes his teammates better players. In other words, they lack a Jermaine Jones. In Orlando, Jones made a magnificent long pass to a forward who dribbled and scored the tying goal. The Revs have never recovered from his departure. Nguyen can’t take his place, but with someone like Jones at his back, I’m betting Nguyen’s play can revert to much more competitive levels.

Right now, Chicago is enjoying the presence of someone in the same class as Jones in Schweinsteiger, a player with equal if not more skill than the former Revs midfielder, and with fewer emotional liabilities. After sitting on the bench at Manchester United for about eight months, Schweinsteiger is not in 100% game shape, but he will be soon.

David Accam is fast. The Revs absolutely need a winger close to his caliber.

Professional coaches are always comparing the talent they have with that on other teams. The Revs are falling way behind in this area. To catch up, a Revs’ staff member needs to put some money in his pocket, buy a plane ticket to Europe, find a slightly past-his-prime midfield general, and bring him to New England. While he’s at it, let’s try for a top winger, too.

3 Comments

  1. BWG

    April 17, 2017 at 9:24 am

    Rick,

    Every season I enjoy your column and this season has been no different.

    My question relates to Jones type player. How much do you think they miss the skill set he brought (tangible) relative to the leadership he brought (intangible). For me I think leadership is an even bigger vacuum. The team needs a vocal leader with cachet of having played in big moments. For example, Lee didn’t hold onto the ball for too long when Jones was there because jones wouldn’t let him. It was no coincidence this was the best period in Heaps tenure because Jones was the coach. I think a similar effect could be had with a leader in other positions although certainly vision and talent in the midfield is also sorely lacking.

    A couple other thoughts:

    Smith is a nice physical player but can people stop saying he is the answer at center back? He lost his man on the second goal and was beat badly for pace on the third goal. We also need a real solution there.

    Every game I still look at Kamara and think that despite his obvious talents he doesn’t fit with the rest of the team.

    Why would you remove Rowe? What would Rowe want to be removed from the fullback position? I understand he was always a midfield player. Twellman said it best last year. Outside back is a position of need for the Nats. Rowe will never get the opportunity in the midfield. With more reps he could be a top flight outside back. He is quick physical good defender good with the ball at his feet an offensive threat.

    Finally, am super curious, assuming it was possible, what aging midfield general would you want on this team? I was running through a list in my head. How about someone like Wesley Sneijder?

  2. Rick Sewall

    April 17, 2017 at 12:33 pm

    BWG- thanks for the questions. First, the leadership Jermaine brought to the Rev team was at least as important to its success as his tangible (as you say) skill set, so I agree with your first premise. The field general commands, but can do so in a very vocal way or in a quiet way (by actions more than words). I have experienced both styles and somewhat prefer the latter method, but both can be effective. In any case, the team’s referring to Jones as a coach on the field, combined with the jump in team play when he arrived, is enough to convince me that he was a very effective leader, no matter what his style.

    A good field general can help a player like Lee Nguyen, for example, by making it clear that if Lee passes him the ball, he’ll get the ball back in a better offensive position–he doesn’t have to rely on dribbling the way he is presently.

    Sadly, Jermaine’s Achilles heel was his tendency to get too concerned about referee calls he considered to be wrong. Encouraging teammates to focus on what you can control in a game (you cannot control referee decisions–take note, Jay Heaps) is an important leadership quality.

    I agree also that the jury is still out concerning Josh Smith. David Accam can run away from most defenders, but it was too easy for him with Josh. Maybe the Revs should have had a quicker player mark Accam. Having a big 6 feet 4 inch guy on him is asking too much.
    The Revs are currently weak at the wing positions, and having a speedy one, one who could challenge defenders, could bring out the best in Kei. He needs more chances to be dangerous in front of the goal.

    Agree about Kelyn. Outside back is a great position because it requires a versatile player.

    The 32 year old Sneijder would be a great choice. Or how about Luca Modric , a 31 year old, from Real Madrid? What the Revs have to do is consult with an honest person who is very familiar with all of European soccer.

    • BWG

      April 19, 2017 at 2:23 am

      Thanks Rick for this and all your insights.

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