New England Soccer Today

Technically Speaking: #NEvDC

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 away in the comments section!

NESoccerToday: Lee Nguyen’s early goal seemed to be exactly what the Revs needed to set the tone. But it wasn’t long before the wheels started to fall off as DC scored a pair of quick goals in the 26th and 28th minutes. What went wrong for the Revs leading up to and during those goals?

Rick: After the fifth minute goal, they had two good scoring chances. The first arrived in the 16th minute off a Kei Kamara header from a corner kick, forcing DC keeper Bill Hamid to dive to keep it out of the goal. The second was Diego Fagundez’s 24th-minute shot from about 24 yards to force a second diving save from Hamid. In the meantime, DC had a great opportunity when the Revs failed to clear a corner, resulting in Ian Harkes’s whistling a shot off the post from 20 yards.

Beyond these highlights, play was fairly even up to the two DC goals in the 26th and 28th minutes, with the Revs starting the game on the “front foot” and with DC play gradually improving up to the time of their two goals.

On the first goal, the Revs failed to clear a free kick, letting the ball bounce around until Jared Jeffrey shot from about 19 yards, to beat Cody Cropper just inside the right post. The second goal was a nice effort by the 33-year-old Sebastien LeToux, when he ran past both Josh Smith and Toni Delamea and slipped the ball past Cody Cropper. Foot speed is definitely not the Revs center backs’ strong suit. They were too easily beaten by an experienced (and older) striker.

One could say that all three goals in the first half resulted from defensive errors. The fifth-minute goal was scored by a totally unmarked Nguyen, the 26th by a failure to clear a free kick, and the 28th because New England’s center backs couldn’t keep up with the opportunistic LeToux. The run of play from the start of the game to the 28th minute didn’t seem to me to play a significant role in deciding the score.

Before Chris Tierney entered the game in the second half, it seemed like the Revs were struggling to get width from their fullbacks. If Rowe and Farrell aren’t going to stretch the field, what should the Revs do tactically to pull apart the defense?

Rick: If the Revs choose to continue to use Rowe and Farrell as their outside backs, they have two options: 1) Have whoever is playing striker do a lot of lateral running to get open on the wings. If the timing of a run like that is good, the strikers have a chance to get open with the ball at their feet and on the wing. At the very least, an opposing defender, usually a center back, has to move to cover them, thereby stretching the defense. 2) Acquire that speedy winger or two (ideally a righty and a lefty) who can stretch the defense on their own by beating a back to the end line before crossing. They are hard to come by, I might add.

Having two natural right-footers in Rowe and Fagundez on the left side of the field takes away the easiest and most intuitive way of crossing, given that the most natural way to cross from the left side is with the left foot. Both are very weak with the left, as evidenced by a tendency to cross the ball with their right foot when the left should be used. Tierney is effective on the left side because is a strong left-footed kicker. Farrell is appropriately right-footed at right back, but his crossing is so-so, and he can’t shoot worth a lick.

After the game, Antonio Mlinar Delamea said most of the Revs corners were “rubbish.” What can they do to improve their form on corner kicks, especially if Tierney is no longer a starter?

Rick: First, I think changing from Nguyen to Rowe taking the corners was a good idea. It sure contributed to the 48th minute goal. Second, what should the Revs do to improve this “rubbish” situation? The main theme of their corners (besides the occasional short corner) is to aim for Kei Kamara’s head. He is clearly the strongest header on the team. He either loops around to the far post, runs toward the near post, or runs toward the ball for a flick-on. All these are viable options, but I would urge them to add at least a couple of others to their repertoire, maybe like the formation DC used in the 13th minute for their first and second corners – lining three or four players on the end line on the other side of the far post and having them run into the area after the kick. DC may not have scored from this tactic, but they did hit the post on the second try.

What is essential is that, no matter what corner methods you may select, you practice them almost daily all season long, or until the team knows exactly how to do them instinctively.

How would you rate the Revs offensive performance vs. DC compared to their form against San Jose?

Rick: I would say they were about the same. In both games, they left points on the field in very distressing fashion.

There is, however, a silver lining. Fagundez forced Hamid to make a nice save with a 23-yard shot in the 24th minute. He also had a shot in the penalty area in the 59th minute, a shot from 25 yards in the 70th minute, and a 30-yard shot in the 72nd minute. All four were on target and made the keeper work. Kamara’s shot on goal in the penalty area in the 73rd minute was well-placed and was only kept out of the net by a great save. Daigo Kobayashi’s 93rd minute shot with his left foot was very well taken, and it was bad luck that the deflection the ball took did not propel it into the goal.

On the negative side, Kouassi’s 24-yard attempt in the 74th minute went well over the bar. The ball may have been bouncing slightly, but in that situation every effort has to be made to keep the ball low. Watching him kick, I get the feeling Kouassi simply doesn’t know how to do this. His upper body is too erect on contact, making it very difficult for him to hit the backside of the ball. Teal Bunbury’s 85th-minute miss was not only embarrassing, but probably worse than anything seen in the San Jose game. Kamara’s 90th minute try from 30 yards went well over the bar. Because he followed through with his kicking leg pointing directly to the left side line, he would have had to hit the ball absolutely perfectly for it to be on target. His shooting style left him almost no margin for error, reducing the chance for a successful on-target shot to somewhere between slim and none.

What stood out the most about Saturday’s draw?

Rick: In answering question 4, I have focused totally on shooting technique – largely in reaction against Jay Heaps’ comments at the end of the game. Heaps excused the team’s lack of finishing by saying they practice a lot to put players in good spots for scoring possibilities, but at that point it is their decision whether to shoot or pass, and, because the window for this decision is so small, they sometimes make the wrong decision.

Well, sure. But if the coaching staff taught their players how to shoot, they’d opt to shoot more often, and their finishing quotient would go up. Confidence in your shot is the biggest impetus toward shooting. At no time does Heaps say anything about technique, or the palpable fact that when the Revs do opt to shoot, the ball is likely to go anywhere but in the goal. This is a problem that should disturb anyone involved in coaching.

Great players in sports (like musicians, for that matter) — and great teams like the Patriots because Bill Belichick emphasizes technique—become that way because they practice technique obsessively and are fully aware that there is always room for improvement. Players like Larry Bird, David Beckham, and Ted Williams are three that immediately come to mind. Bernie “Boom Boom” Geoffrion, a great hockey player for the Montreal Canadiens and innovator of the slap shot, got his nickname because, as a kid, he would always practice his shooting when the rink was free, loudly banging pucks off the boards. As my college baseball coach used to say, “Always strive for perfection, even though you know you will never be perfect,” and “Work to make your weakness your strength.”

No soccer player is totally technically adept or ever has been, but they should obsess over a variety of kicking techniques, over ball control, over dribbling. Even at the professional level, there should be time allotted to work on technique in practices – otherwise, players will stagnate and even backslide. Hard-working, dedicated players like Rowe, Fagundez, Farrell, and Scott Caldwell have made very little technical progress (if any) over the past three years. Their most obvious problem, the one that is holding them back the most, is in their shooting. Farrell hasn’t scored in five years, and Rowe and Fagundez haven’t tasted the same success since their banner performances in 2013.

There are some one-footed superstars, like Diego Maradona (lefty) and Franz Beckenbauer (righty), but if you are not as good as they are, you better learn to kick with both feet. All it takes to transfer the skill to the weaker foot is practice.

One thing: The Revs TV crew said that this was a “must win” for the the locals because they were playing at home against a depleted DC team. Don’t believe it. By my count, there are still six months of soccer to be played.

Also: Nice passing sequence before the second Revs goal…which, as it turned out, produced a bit of fortune when the ball deflected off of Sean Franklin before it settled into the back of the net. What’s the old saying? The harder I work, the luckier I get.

4 Comments

  1. tom

    April 25, 2017 at 2:34 pm

    Hi Rick, I love your reviews — not being a soccer player or coach I don’t see all the details you do. Regarding shooting technique, how do other MLS teams rate? Would you say the Revs players are normal or worse than usual for MLS? Is shooting technique in Europe and Latin American leagues generally good? – Tom

  2. Rick Sewall

    April 25, 2017 at 3:10 pm

    Hi Tom- Other MLS teams are pretty similar to the Revs vis a vis their ability to execute the power kick. Occasionally, you see a shot executed with pretty good technique, but then 5 or 10 minutes later, you will see some bad technique, done often by the same person who shot previously. This lack of consistency is good evidence that the vast majority of players do not have a clear mental image of how the skill should be executed. Not surprising, considering the fact that they have been improperly taught, if taught at all.

    The shooting at the top levels in Europe and South America is a lot better, but they have many of the same problems shown by MLS players. Power shooting is arguably the most important skill in soccer, yet it remains , for players all over the world, the biggest technical weakness.

    I am quite sure that, in teaching pros the power kick, the main difficulty would be correcting bad habits– there are many.

  3. Eric Lindsay Waters

    April 28, 2017 at 3:56 pm

    I’ve really been enjoying these columns this year as well! Had never spent much time on nesoccertoday before the last couple weeks but I’m glad I found it.

    I really appreciate the comments about shooting technique as well as the failure for Rowe, Fagundez, Caldwell, Farrell, et al to improve. Every time someone says something about the Revs looking good on paper or having a lot of great attacking talent I cringe. We had a very promising roster – 3 years ago! But they haven’t improved. I don’t think these players can be considered high-quality MLS players any more.

    Heaps makes good and bad decisions related to substitutions, tactics and everything, but I feel like the fact that not a single individual player has improved under his watch is the most important piece of evidence against him.

  4. Rick Sewall

    April 28, 2017 at 7:14 pm

    Eric- I appreciate your comments and am glad you found NEST.

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