New England Soccer Today

Technically Speaking: #SEAvNE

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

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

NESoccerToday: From your perspective, what were the biggest reasons for the Revs surrendering a 3-goal lead to the Sounders?

Rick: I’d pin the blame on the team’s lack of defensive execution in the last 20 minutes, especially their failure to block crosses. This team breakdown was most likely a direct result of player fatigue.

One thing that happens when you’re playing against a team with more talent than yours is that they wear you down as the game progresses. You can keep up with them for a long time on guts and determination, but not necessarily for all 90 minutes. I’d say that this was a major factor in the Revs’ concession of three goals after the 75th minute.

Between the 73rd minute (when the Revs really began to falter) and the tying goal in the 90th minute, I counted about 10 unblocked Seattle crosses, nine from the left side, plus the one from the right side that resulted in the 88th-minute goal. Sounder left back Joevin Jones, a come-from-behind overlapper, was the primary culprit, accounting for the majority of the crosses. He simply had his way with the right side of the Revs defense (Andrew Farrell and Scott Caldwell). Why? First, because he is an excellent dribbler and has a nice crossing touch. Second, both Caldwell and Farrell were basically done. This was clear from their defensive positioning – they were lining up a step too far from Jones, out of apparent fear that they would get beat on the dribble. This made it virtually impossible for them to execute the quick lateral movements necessary to block a cross. They stood and watched, looking almost mesmerized by Jones. This had to be the result of fatigue, whether physical,

All game long, Seattle was packing players in the penalty area to make these crosses result in goals. Once they had six players in the area at once, all looking to score. Given that the talented Seattle side had a big statistical advantage in ball possession for the whole game, the Sounders’ staff was correctly banking that these goals would come sooner or later.

The Revs’ bizarre failure to mark Nicolas Lodeiro, one of the best players in the league, when he was right in front of the goal before the 75th minute could also be attributed to fatigue.

I give Paul Mariner a lot of credit for keying into this situation (the failure to block crosses) as it was taking place. He alluded to the problem as early as the 15th minute of the game. I really felt for him when I heard him mutter, “Stop the cross, Andrew,” in the 82nd minute.

Players, especially pros, have to be fit enough to play 90 minutes of soccer. Whether or not the collapse was a result of sub-par fitness on top of being outgunned by a better team is a question that has to be evaluated by the Revs staff.

How could the players have better managed the game during the final 15-20 minutes? What about the coaching staff?

Rick: I wish they were able to keep more possession in midfield than they did. I think the coaching staff’s removal of the trio of Diego Fagundez, Lee Nguyen, and Daigo Kobayashi from the game may have been a mistake because these three, besides being experienced, are likely the strongest ball-possession dribblers and passers on the team. I would have had them play deeper than normal and close enough together that they could maintain a short passing attack under pressure. Teal Bunbury, Je-Vaughn Watson, and Femi Hollinger-Janzen are not as strong as the starters at a passing attack.

Were the three starters removed because they were out of gas? If so, I suppose the substitutions were simply a necessity. And maybe Heaps was making a consciously defensive move in switching out Nguyen for Watson. But I still wish the incoming players had the skill and experience needed to hold the ball on offense. This would have helped prevent Seattle from claiming such rapid-fire scoring chances, especially after the 70th minute.

In the quarter finals at the 1970 World Cup in Mexico, England played West Germany. After England got a 2-0 lead, coach Alf Ramsey decided to take out Bobby Charlton, their very experienced and key man in the midfield. Germany went on to tie and won the game with a goal in overtime. Ramsey’s removal of Charlton was a mistake that occasioned major outrage at the time. For a similar reason, I would be reluctant to bench an important player like Nguyen unless I was convinced that he was truly running on empty.

Prior to the collapse, the Revolution offense looked especially dangerous. What do you think allowed them to operate so effectively?

Rick: The Sounders’ offensive strategy depended heavily on bringing backs Joevin Jones and Jordy Delem forward on the overlap, while at the same time packing the Revs’ penalty area chockful of attackers primed to receive crosses. These two tactical decisions left the Sounders hyper-vulnerable to the counterattack (a gamble the Seattle coaching staff was apparently willing to take). The Revs were not shy in taking advantage of this situation. They created at least eight good counterattacking chances in the first half (resulting in two goals), and more in the second. I was especially impressed with Kelyn Rowe’s left-footed cross (yay, Kelyn!) to Juan Agudelo’s directed header to the right corner of the goal in the 26th minute. Opportunities in the 50th and 52nd minutes were followed close on by Juan’s goal in the 54th minute. Another counterattack in the 66th minute led to the foul against Scott Caldwell that should have drawn a penalty shot.

Essentially, for 70 minutes, the Revs took good advantage of the situation the Sounders’ game strategy presented them with. Seattle further compounded its own problems by handing the Revs some embarrassing giveaways in their own defensive end. On top of that, the Sounder back four was missing a key defender in Chad Marshall, contributing to the Revs’ offensive effectiveness.

This is now the third straight game in which the Revs have left points on the pitch. Do you think that development is on the players or coaching staff?

Rick: Giving up three goals in the last 15 minutes of any game is tough to for anyone to accept – players, coaches, fans. I’d be very hesitant to blame the players for this disappointing result, though, because their effort was there in spades.

Players often make mistakes in the last 10 or 15 minutes of a game, from fatigue. The first symptom is often a failure to concentrate mentally, followed shortly thereafter by physical breakdown. The problem is especially likely when you have only about 25% of ball possession, as the Revs did in this game.

The coaching staff is a different matter. On the one hand, they had to devise a game plan while missing a critical player like Kei Kamara and a useful and potentially game-changing sub like Chris Tierney. The fact that the team passed the 70-minute mark with a three-goal lead suggests that the plan was pretty darned good.

On the other hand, their game management in the second half seemed fishy to me. They subbed out the players who had the most potential to hold onto a possession offense. Instead, they fell back, parked the bus, and invited the other team to hammer them with overlaps and crosses they were too tired to prevent.

The main offender was most likely ownership, for not providing both management and the coaching staff with the horses needed to compete with top-level MLS teams like the Sounders, the reigning champs.

What stood out the most about Saturday’s game?

Rick: Seattle keeper Stefan Frei was roundly criticized for failing to handle Daigo Kobayashi’s 15th-minute shot from 35 yards away. I say give the guy a break. The topspin imparted by Daigo’s well-executed power kick (gravity had nothing to do with this!) made the ball dip violently, more than three feet, as it zinged toward Frei. This made the ball very difficult to corral. If Frei had been able to do so, it would have been a strong save. Credit the goal to a great shot, more than to goalkeeper error. The MLS ball is unquestionably lively – all the more reason why players should work to master the straight-on power kick, with its propensity to consistently impart topspin on the ball.

I was especially impressed by seeing this right-footed rocket by Daigo a week after his left-footed overtime blast against DC.

Any high school varsity soccer player, if taught properly (girls as well as boys), should be able to shoot a ball on-target with authority and confidence from 25 or 30 yards away from the goal. To me, it’s a sad commentary on the state of MLS shooting for me to be surprised when a talented pro like Daigo is able to shoot and score from 35 yards, but I confess I was. By my book, anyone who locks his ankle on the follow-through the way he did deserves a shot at a starting position.

Ozzie Alonso was a key player in this game and is the type of player the Revs should be trying to get. He was not only the Sounder field general during the game – he also scored the tying goal. If the Revs had had a player with his ability to control the pace of play (especially during the last 20 minutes), they would have had a lot better chance of holding onto the win.


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