New England Soccer Today

Mailing it In

John Spencer should mail thank you cards to Steve Nicol and his last-place squad.

After all, it’s not every day that a team gift-wraps a playoff berth to its opponent.  And that’s exactly what the Revs brought to Portland on Friday night against Spencer’s desperate eleven. By carelessly conceding a series of charitable chances, the Revs seemed all too keen to ensure that the record 20,323 fans present for the proceedings went home happy.

In yet another embarrassing display of what not to do when facing a fired-up opponent, the Revs, by and large, failed to show up for the game. With their season quickly drawing to a close, the gracious guests permitted their hungry hosts to dominate as a national audience witnessed the Revs play some of the most uninspired football seen this season.

Take a look at the highlights lowlights. On the buildup to the Kenny Cooper goal, Kevin Alston and Monsef Zerka handed Michael Chabala the deed to right flank before the Portland wingback fired it across to Cooper, who beat A.J. Soares to the ball and easily tapped it through. Two experienced veterans, one rookie. And not one of them did a single thing to stop it.

Down two goals and the game still within reach – despite what Steve Nicol said in his post-match critique – the Timbers roamed into New England territory searching for a third. Once again, Alston conceded far too much space. Searching for options, Kalif Alhassan whipped it into the box, where an unmarked Darlington Nagbe had enough space – thanks to Chris Tierney’s careless marking – to glance it through in the 66th minute. Game. Set. Match.

But, perhaps the most egregious sequence of Friday night’s epic fail came early. Instead of setting the tempo, they seemed way too comfortable letting the Spencer’s men slice and dice them. And it was obvious. Just before the tenth minute, the first goal of game played out in this manner: Three passes. Six casual defenders. One easy goal. So much for coming out strong.

It’s one thing for form to evaporate in the waning minutes; it’s an entirely different matter when it’s the ninth minute. At that point, the Timbers had every incentive to attack, and then attack some more, thanks to the indifferent Revolution defense.

Of course, the goals weren’t the only glaring mistakes. Nagbe squandered two sure-fire strikes in the first half. Lovel Palmer’s missile pounded the post in the 39th minute. And then there was Bright Dike’s breakway that would’ve squeaked in before Darrius Barnes hurried over to plug the near post.

It wasn’t the fact that the Revs ended up on the losing end of the board that was disturbing. Far from it. The Revs have lost 11 other times, but at least showed the effort in a fair amount of those defeats.

It was the way in which they were willingly humiliated that’s troubling. Friday night was an opportunity to make a statement. Forget the Timbers, their home field advantage, and their postseason hopes. Forget the fact that it’ll be another fall without a playoff appearance. Forget the first 28 matches. The Revs had to enter Friday’s game fired up and ready to knock the Timbers further down the playoff standings.

Instead, they did the exact opposite. They came out scared. They came out careless. They acquiesced. And to those ends, they willingly played into Portland’s hands and became the foil against a mediocre team.

And that’s on Nicol, the man who’s job it is to ensure that his players, at very least, show up for these games. It’s one thing to see a player or two lacking form on the field at any given time. On Friday night, nearly every player, save for Barnes perhaps, seemed indifferent to the scoreline. When that many players aren’t giving it their all, well, it may be time to start questioning the person responsible for getting them motivated.

If anything, Friday’s match proved that the Revs, a team that has played without purpose countless times this season, never belonged in the playoff conversation. Period. Forget the early leads, the spectacular saves, and the set-piece successes. Far too many times this season, the Revs simply weren’t up to the challenge when it mattered. And because of that, they’re well on their way toward another early autumn.

With all due respect to Spencer’s squad, the Timbers didn’t win Friday’s match so much as the Revs lost it. And as a result, the Timbers are eyeing a postseason berth while the Revs, by their own design, are mourning the imminent conclusion of their campaign.

Maybe Spencer should also send a card of condolences as well.


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