New England Soccer Today

Technically Speaking: #NEvNY

Photo credit: J. Alexander Dolan

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

Have a question for Rick? Fire away in the comments section!

NESoccerToday: After conceding three goals at critical moments of the game – right after scoring, shortly after the break, and right before full-time – from a coaching perspective, does it look like Jay Heaps has lost his players’ attention and focus?

Rick: Although it is true that there are times in a game (at the beginning and end of each half or after a goal of your own, for example) when goals against are hard to accept because they are signs of flagging focus, it is hard to say that this was the case when Bradley Wright-Phillips scored. He simply demonstrated the strength, skill, and experience needed to overpower the defense to score. The next time the Revs play the Red Bulls (next Thursday), I would hope that they would mark him closely whenever he gets within 25 yards of the goal. It is difficult to assure effective coverage of this sort with zonal marking, so man-marking is probably the solution if the appropriate defensive bulldog can be found. In any case, the middle of the Rev defense needs to tighten up when they play against a striker like BWP.

The second goal, a penalty kick at about 10 minutes after half time, was due less to a team lapse of focus than, simply, to a horrendous mistake on Gershon Koffie’s part. When (on offense) you have the ball in the area you should be very reluctant to retreat out of the area, because when you’re in it you have the defender under tremendous pressure. If he fouls you a penalty kick will very likely result. It seemed as if when Koffie fouled so carelessly, basically just sticking his leg out haplessly, he seemed to have forgotten this basic principle. He should have been reluctant to tackle and should instead have dug in, making every attempt to stay between the goal and his mark.

Having a player like Felipe on your team (especially when the chips are down) is incredibly valuable. The Revs should strive to acquire a defensive midfielder of this caliber. His pass to Gonzalo Veron late in the game was one only a few players in the league could have made. Notwithstanding, the back four should never have let Veron break through so easily. The Revs must have known that he was fast and should therefore have taken measures to keep him from breaking away, positioning themselves conservatively a couple of yards or so goalside from him.

In sum, I would say that the defense was mentally sloppy on all three goals, perhaps less so on the first, more so on the second and third. It is hard for me to say whether Heaps was at fault for his defenders losing attention and focus. I would have to know what player attitude is like in the locker room and on the practice field before I could come to a reasoned conclusion on this point.

The most important mental quality for a defender is a tremendous desire to frustrate opposing forwards while keep your poise and concentrating for 90 minutes. The front office should be looking for players with these attributes. In any case, coaches should frequently stress these principles to the whole team, especially defenders.

Are the defensive gremlins we’ve witnessed over the last few weeks correctable, or do the Revolution need to start thinking about adding better players?

Rick: To give any team needed help on defense, adding offensive-minded as well as improved defensive players will help to keep the ball out of your own goal. The Revs need speed at left back, offensive skill at right back, and more speed in at least one center back. One good passing playmaker/field general in the midfield would be key, to complement a ball-winner like Xavier Kouassi. Overall, I would say that adding better players would be the best bet, so the New York Yankees method is probably the way to go.

The Revs could get all of these types of players if they were willing to bolster their roster by getting out of the five or six million dollar team salary category. An additional 2 million dollar infusion would likely be more than enough. I’m nowhere near an expert on salary cap regulations and things of hat ilk, but I am still bothered to see several players on opposing MLS teams making , individually, as much or more than the entire Revs roster.

3. If you were given the task of coaching the Revs in their next game, what kind of changes would you make, and what would the message be going forward?

Rick: Up front, I would do all I could to put Kei Kamara and Juan Agudelo on the field at the same time, with Kamara up top and Agudelo as a withdrawn striker. Lee Nguyen would be a box-to-box midfielder, tasked with reading the game situation to decide whether to play more offensively or defensively. Xavier Kouassi (if he is back) would be defensive midfielder. Toni Delamea and Benji Angoua would be centerbacks, with Delamea on the left side and more advanced. (I’m wary of a straight-line back four, because it tends to lead to flubbed off-side traps; it takes a lot of experience and poise to implement it effectively). On the outsides, Chris Tierney would play left back, Diego Fagundez left midfield/wing, Teal Bunbury or Rowe right midfield/wing, and Andrew Farrell rightback. Cody Cropper in goal. Scott Caldwell, Daigo Kobayashi, Gershon Koffie, and Je-Vaughn Watson would be the prime subs.

The center of the field, from Kamara to Angoua, would line up like a zig-zagging lightning bolt. This formation makes it very easy to change shape strategically on the fly.

Paul Mariner mentioned “mindset” (I assume he meant a good one) as one of the necessary requirements to win this very important Red Bull game.

As an alternative to coaches’ talks to players that tend to revolve around clichés like “you are professional players” and “take one game at a time,” I would like to stress something I truly care about. Basically, I cannot see that being mentally sidetracked by refereeing is part of Mariner’s desired mindset.

The Revs, including especially Coach Heaps, are still too obsessed with what they consider bad referee calls. This preoccupation has to have an overall negative effect on the team’s play. It is not fun to play on a team where this ill will is always close to the surface, ready to well up as an excuse. Players often copycat the coach’s negative attitude toward the refs, as I saw occasionally in the second half of the Red Bull game.

Negative responses to ref calls clearly do not improve your chances of getting favorable calls later in the game; indeed, since refs are human too, the opposite could be more likely.

If I were coach, I wouldn’t indulge myself with any dirty looks or vituperation directed at the referee, nor would I tolerate these from my players. I would make the reasons for this rule very clear to the team – in brief, that blaming the ref is a distraction to playing the game properly. Venting at the ref is a blatant attempt to shift the responsibility for sub-par performance off the players and coach, and onto a third party.

Finally, going forward into next season: I would do something about the team’s (and the Youth Academy’s) shooting at goal. General verbal advice (‘keep your head over the ball’) is simply not enough to correct the team’s plethora of bad shooting habits. To increase the players’ technical knowledge and awareness, heavy-duty step-by-step instruction is absolutely necessary. I think that there is a good chance that the players would buy into it, but the big question is whether or not this idea would be supported by the organization. If it were, however, I am very confident that the club would see positive results in 2018.

Side note: Diego Fagundez, easily the most improved forward on the Revs, runs with the ball as well as anyone in the league, and he is getting results: two elegant assists in the game against the Red Bulls. It would behoove the Uruguayan MNT to take note.

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