New England Soccer Today

Technically Speaking: #CHIvNE

Photo credit: Kari Heistad/

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? Fire away in the comments section!

NESoccerToday: It seems like we’ve seen this movie, and every sequel since: in the post-game media scrum, Jay Heaps and the players cite “moments” in which they weren’t good enough for their demise in Chicago. What do you think it will take for them to get better in those moments? Better players? Better coach? Better training techniques?

Rick: A few moments? No way. Beyond the bare fact of their having scored four goals, the Fire controlled the game for the first fifteen to twenty minutes and much of it thereafter. Defensively, the Revs began the game playing too nice. This quickly allowed Fire right back Matt Polster to dribble by at least two Revs, Kelyn Rowe and Diego Fagundez, to score a goal with the outside of his right foot. Then again, maybe that way of putting it gives Polster too much credit: in fact, he didn’t so much dribble by the Revs as they either simply ignored him (Rowe) or actively pulled out of his way (Fagundez).

The second goal by Juninho (a free shot from almost directly in front of the goal) and the third by Michael DeLeeuw (a free header from a Patrick Doody cross) were preventable goals that didn’t get prevented. Considering their positions on the field, both players should have been closely marked. The fourth goal, an extra-time Luis-Solignac make-it-look-easy goal, is almost not worth mentioning, as the defense (Rowe, Benji Angoua, and Toni Delamea) had simply quit playing at that point. Good offensive players (like Chicago’s) generally will score against a defense with weaknesses. When your defense fails even to make a serious effort, they’ll score a lot.

To their detriment, the Revs totally underestimated the second-string Chicago left fullback, Doody, who got assists on all goals but the first (and started even that one off with an excellent 50-yard feed to Polster in the offensive right corner).

The Revs simply have to get tougher on defense. If it comes to taking a yellow card early in the game, they need to do it. If they had, Chicago would most likely not have scored the first goal, and the complexion of the whole game might have changed.

Put simply, the most important quality for left and right back is the ability to play tough, effective defense. Attacking strength is obviously a plus, but not at the expense of fundamental defensive reliability. Rowe is not a strong defender, so he shouldn’t play left back. He’s a versatile player with an excellent crossing touch (as demonstrated in the second half of this game), whose best position is probably right midfield-wing. But the Revs critically need to find a natural left fullback. Andrew Farrell is also struggling lately on the right. He should have stopped the third (decisive) goal. That is simply what good defenders should do – man-mark.

During the game, announcers Brad Feldman and Paul Mariner repeatedly noted the competence of the Fire team defense, with almost all players getting between the ball and their goal when the Revs were in possession. The Revs should learn from this.

The Revs also need a midfielder (offensive or defensive) like Dax McCarty, who gets back like a demon. This is something Dax has been doing for many years with the Red Bulls and now is doing for the Fire. The way he slid to help prevent Teal Bunbury from scoring in the 60th minute was impressive. The Revs sorely need someone of this ilk – a midfielder who plays like a hockey winger with a penchant for back-checking.

You mentioned in your last column that Revs fans should be cautious after the team won two straight at home, knowing their road form has not been good. Now that we’re this deep into the season, and with the Revs demolished on the road Saturday, do you think the team just isn’t mentally tough enough to win on the road?

Rick: The Revs need to play harder and tougher to win on the road, especially against the big-money teams. By “tough” I mean always going 100% for the ball (not the guy). That way, even if you miss the ball and clobber the guy, you probably won’t be carded. Then again, the professional foul is useful for two reasons, first to stop a threatening offensive play, second to show the opposition that you mean business. A really hard tackle that garners a yellow card can sometimes take an offensive player off his game. The Revs might find a few intimidation tactics very useful, especially when they’re playing against the teams with hot-shot attackers.

The Revs were far too passive to begin this game. If I had been coaching the first half, I would have set a team goal of staying in the game and letting Chicago’s big-name players know that if they expected to win they were going to have to work hard for it, that they were in for a down-and-dirty battle.

When you compare the Fire, a team brimming with stars, to the Revs, a team that’s been poor on the road, did the Revs actually stand any chance on Saturday?

Rick: If, realizing that they were underdogs playing against a very talented team, the Revs had got themselves psyched to the challenge, they would have had a pretty good chance at a result. Underdogs can often turn their disadvantage into a psychological advantage, through all-out gutsy play. Unfortunately, the Revs didn’t, as far as I could see, come close to this type of mentality. They acted as if Schweinsteiger was a god on the field, seeming almost in awe of him, and giving him too much freedom.

For all the lowlights we saw on Saturday, did you see any moment or sequence that should give Revs fans hope that maybe, just maybe, the postseason isn’t out of reach?

Rick: The Revs, presently six points below sixth place in the standings, have twelve remaining games, six at home, and the away six against strong opposition. Winning four of six at home is a distinct possibility, but winning only one of six away from home is another one. That would total 15 points, and a point total of 41 will most likely not be enough – teams above the Revs would have to lay a collective egg for those 41 points to be sufficient.

August 9th is the last day to get the Jermaine-Jones-type player the Revs need to turn the season around and make the playoffs. It all comes down to whether or not ownership will loosen up the purse strings. Then again, maybe that top-level player is not available.

I’m always a little surprised to hear people say, as I often enough do, that the Revs aren’t playing up to their level of talent. In my view, it’s precisely more talent that they need.

What stood out the most about Saturday’s match?

Rick: Chicago’s strong start to the game bothered me, as I thought this indicated a lack of mental preparation on the Revs’ part. The Revs’ defensive sloppiness on all four goals, especially the last, should be of major concern to Coach Heaps. In case any might be tempted to forgive their blatant let-down on that late goal, let them remember that the Revs lost a playoff berth to Philadelphia last year on goal differential.

Rowe whipped a number excellent crosses in the second half. He has a good sense of where to position himself before crossing. U.S. coach Bruce Arena must have seen this quality, along with his crossing touch, when he brought him up to the National Team.

Beyond a left back, a midfield generalissimo, and a Dax McCarty-type, the Revs could really use a speedy forward like Latif Blessing of Kansas City (who makes less than $75,000) or David Accam of Chicago ($800,000). It would make a huge difference.

This was one of the very few important games where the Revs put in a mediocre mental effort. If I were Coach Heaps, I would be very concerned.

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