New England Soccer Today

Technically Speaking: #NYCvNE

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? Fire away in the comments section!

NESoccerToday: What was your impression of Claude Dielna during his debut?

Rick: Dielna is a big, very experienced left footer who should pair well with Toni Delamea in future games. To me, his experience and finesse showed, for example, when he cleverly snipped the ball away from an onrushing Jack Harrison in the first half. In this game, they did well together up until the tying goal in the 77th minute.

At that point, though, I was mystified as to how these two experienced central defenders could leave David Villa, the league’s leading scorer and arguably its best player, alone at the six-yard line. Any opposing player in that field position (let alone a star) must be closely marked, and it is the responsibility of the central defenders either to do it themselves or assign the job to someone else.

I hope the coaching staff does not put Dielna at left back. His size would cut his chances against a nippy winger (size reduces quickness). Anyway, I look forward to seeing this new defensive duo work together.

What did you make of the changes across the backline?

Rick: This back four was one of the Revs’ strongest this year. The center back pair generally worked well, Andrew Farrell did fine defensively on the left and even contributed to Teal Bunbury’s goal, and Benji Angoua did the job at right back – though I was distressed by his 52nd-minute outburst after receiving a yellow card (which could just as easily have been a red). The card was probably the main reason Scott Caldwell was brought in for him nine minutes later – and this substitution in turn may have hurt the Revs’ defensive cause as the game wore on. In any case, such an outburst rarely helps teammates’ game focus.

Did you think, based on the lineup and the way the first half unfolded, the Revs were serious about getting maximum points on Sunday?

Rick: The Revs reverted to the 4-2-3-1 formation, with six players whose primary responsibility was playing defense. I would guess the strategy was to keep the Revs in the game up to halftime – not a bad strategy when one considers the fact that NYCFC had the two best players on the field in David Villa and Maxi Moralez. And, with the score 0-0 at the half, one could say that the strategy worked. By that point, Villa had had only one good chance, and the ball possession captained by Moralez (65%) had done nothing for New York’s bottom line.

According to Heaps’ post-game comments, Lee Nguyen couldn’t play because he suffered a knock during pre-game warmups (What do they do? Practice tackling?). A more offensive lineup, one with a better chance at scoring a goal, would have included Nguyen, or a good passer like Daigo Kobayashi or Scott Caldwell instead of Gershon Koffie. This group might have improved the their possession statistic and thereby produced more scoring chances.

As it was, the only good chance in the first half took place about 20 minutes into it when keeper Sean Johnson made a great save on Kelyn Rowe’s shot from 25 yards.

Overall, I think the Revs would have been happy to leave Yankee Stadium with one point. Before the game they knew their chances for a victory were slim considering NYCFC’s talent and recent form.

What stood out the most about Sunday’s game?

Rick: First, the overall 64-to-36 percent possession advantage NYCFC had for the whole game. Everyone knew about the talents of Moralez, but when you add the second-string central midfielder Mikey Lopez into the mix, you get a duo the New England midfield could not keep up with.

Both were all over the field, demanding passes and playing with a ton of confidence. This kind of performance from Lopez, a player who is making less than $100,000, must have caught the Revs by surprise, as they had no solution to the problem he presented, in combination with Moralez. This is the type of player the Revs sorely need. NYCFC proved that these guys are out there somewhere, at affordable prices.

A good possession game may not show results in the form of goals immediately, but it can wear down the opposition and yield results, often late in a game. Many goals happen during extra time.

Second, Rowe is not made to be a central midfielder. He simply does not have the self-assurance and overall skill and vision to play this position. He did, upon occasion, create some good attacking chances in the offensive end, but he contributed very little to the possession game in the defensive end and in midfield.

There also seemed to be very little communication between him and the two defensive midfielders. He is at his best at right wing, a spot where he can take full advantage of his excellent crossing ability. When he hits the ball right, he also shoots well (though he’s inconsistent in this area).

Another reason why Rowe should not be a central midfielder is that he doesn’t appear to have much interest in the nitty-gritty of defensive play. He seems oddly casual when the Revs don’t have the ball, looking more like a spectator than a key player. It bothered me to see Lopez, with the ball in midfield, run by him easily in the first half. Rowe should have gotten in his way, maybe even tackled or fouled, all of which would have been better than doing nothing. This was also evident when he arrived late and failed to block a pass to Jonathan Lewis before Lewis scored the winning goal. At least there he made an effort, though.

Third, about defensive play as it relates to ball possession: There are teams who cope with a poor ball possession situation very nicely, namely the 2015- 2016 Leicester City club. They did it with three very pro-active stars: forward Jamie Vardy and midfielders N’Golo Kante and Riyad Mahrez. Their other eight players were good players – definitely not stars, but they fought like dogs and bore down for all ninety minutes. As a result, Leicester City won the EPL going away despite having a ball possession statistic of only 40% for the whole season, a percentage which is proof of their lack of talent.

The Revs’ all-team defensive effort, if they continue to have a poor ball possession percentage against the better teams in the MLS, has got to improve.

The secret to this sort of effort rests especially with the forwards. They have to press as a group, to confront and get in the way of every opposing player who has the ball as quickly as possible. The Rev forwards occasionally do this well, but they have to do it on a much more consistent basis.

If the Revs want to make the playoffs, it would behoove them to take a page out of Leicester City’s book.

4 Comments

  1. tom

    August 24, 2017 at 9:41 am

    Rick, The Revs seem to have a good number of competent passers and dribblers, much more than years ago, maybe more than ever before. But their possession stats are still low. Can you say more exactly why?

  2. Rick Sewall

    August 24, 2017 at 10:25 am

    Tom- excellent question, one that requires a lot of thought. I’ll have an answer as soon as I can.

  3. rick sewall

    August 29, 2017 at 7:28 am

    Tom, you triggered something here. See the full answer in my upcoming column.

  4. tom

    August 29, 2017 at 7:17 pm

    Thanks Rick. It’s puzzled me for a long time.

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