New England Soccer Today

Wingmen Wanted

Ryan Guy added spark to the right side of the midfield as the 2011 season drew to a close (Photo: Chris Aduama/aduama.com)

The failures of the 2011 Revolution have been well-documented. A five-win season (fewest in franchise history). A nine-game winless streak (tied for a franchise high). A scant 28 points (tied with Vancouver for the league low). A season-ending seven-game victory drought.

And so on. Amid the numerous failures for the Revolution, perhaps one of the greatest – one that quietly contributed to the team’s disappointing form – was the dearth of consistency found on the wings for the bulk of the season.

Although the Revs were hampered by a Snuggle Bear-soft defense in the latter half of the season, it’s easy to forget that the team’s attack was nearly non-existent for much of the season. Late goals may have gutted the team’s fortunes, but getting shut out on 11 occasions didn’t help matters much, either.

In a troubling nine-game sequence between Apr. 9 through Jun 4., the Revolution scored only two goals from the run of play, both coming in its 3-2 victory over Sporting K.C. on Apr. 23. Not coincidentally, the K.C. game was the last one team MVP Marko Perovic saw action in, as he suffered a season-ending ACL injury before the final whistle and was subsequently out of contract in June after the club declined his option.

While some of the blame fell on the shoulders of high-priced poacher Rajko Lekic, the real culprit was the team’s ineptitude on getting him – or anyone inside the area – the ball, something that then-manager Steve Nicol often cited as the team’s Achilles heel early in the season. Even the use of the 4-3-3 – which was supposed to help the team’s offensive build up – failed to yield its desired result.

The absence of the finishing pass prompted Nicol to switch up his wingers often throughout the season.  Whether it was Sainey Nyassi, Ryan Guy, Zak Boggs or Benny Feilhaber on the right, or Kenny Mansally, Chris Tierney or Feilhaber on the left, the team’s attack continued to sputter along.

However, the mid-season addition of Monsef Zerka gave the Revs a glimpse of what might have been had they found quality on the wings earlier in the season. In his MLS debut, the Moroccan injected some long-overdue life into the offense, as the Revs rang up four goals against Philadelphia before the half. The four-goal effort was the high-water mark for the Revs – only the third time all season the Revs attack put more than two goals through.

While the team’s attack would never enjoy similar success in the season’s latter stages, the Revolution’s possession rate climbed toward the 50 per cent mark after languishing in the 35-40 per cent range for much of the summer. Granted, the stat itself may be somewhat misleading – the Revs had conceded three-goal leads to Portland, Chicago and Columbus during the closing months – but it underscored the team’s improvement of holding the ball with better frequency.

No doubt, the additions of Zerka and Ryan Guy – another midseason signing – pointed the Revs in the right direction as the season reached its conclusion. However, the club’s revitalized form down the stretch may be short-lived.

In November, the club declined its option on Zerka, who was commanding a six-figure salary ($226,000). And while it appears Guy, an inexpensive option ($42,000) on the right, may be back in 2012, the Revs have to find a way to avoid suffering the same pitfalls seen during the earlier parts of last season.

The easiest way to avoid them? Re-signing Zerka. At 30, the Moroccan is still in his prime. In his seven games down the stretch, he showcased obvious techical skill and attacking instincts. Should the team secure Zerka for 2012, it’ll erase the huge question mark currently parked over the left wing, even if Chris Tierney – a solid winger in his own right – remains on the roster.

If Zerka’s services prove to become too costly, a trade for a veteran winger may be their best option. After all, if the Revs have learned one thing in recent years, it’s that young, inexperienced outside midfielders haven’t solved their problems along the periphery.

Then again, if the Revs believe they’re overdue to find a young and talented winger, there’s the upcoming SuperDraft. With the third overall pick, the Revolution may uncover a First Kick starter with either Enzo Martinez (North Carolina) or Brian Span (Virginia).

Of course, the wingplay is only one of many areas Michael Burns and Jay Heaps will need to address this winter. And after its darkest campaign to date, let’s face it, there are a host of issues for the Revolution braintrust to tackle.

But, an emphasis on the wings – where the Revs often found themselves the most vulnerable, both on defense and offense – can only aid the team’s overall form next year. After all, no matter how many dangerous forwards are recruited this offseason, they’ll be rendered useless unless they get quality service – especially along the wings.

3 Comments

  1. Chris B

    December 29, 2011 at 6:30 pm

    I’m actually kinda confident that Zerka will be back. He’s the only one of the three whose options were declined that we hadn’t heard from. We’ve obviously heard a lot from Rajko on the situation and there was a Spanish language article on Caraglio where he said he was hopeful to return but if Heaps’ quotes in a recent Boston Globe article are true then they are “closer on some rather than others”. I take that as them being close on Zerka and not so much Lekic (I have no clue about Caraglio but he’s probably not coming back either.)

    Back to the wingers. I actually like Zerka on the right and Tierney on the left. I really like Guy as well and see him as a super-sub. I like that the wingers we have are versatile as we saw Zerka and Guy switch wings sometimes, as well as Tierney and Mansally we have different options of speed (Mansally, Guy) and intellect (Zerka, Tierney) I’m basically saying Chris and Monsef aren’t as fast but put in some good crosses and have good “soccer brains”. One final point is it is interesting Heaps kept Ryan Kinne as the only low level draft pick he didn’t waive. Perhaps he (unlike Nicol) wants to give him more of a chance. I heard he is versatile as well and seems like he could develop into something good. I’m sure we’ll find out during the training camp this January!

  2. Brian O'Connell

    December 29, 2011 at 11:51 pm

    Hey Chris,
    I think a midfield with Zerka on the right and Tierney on the left would be a good start. But, Tierney isn’t the quickest when tracking back (two words: Sanna Nyassi). I think both make good decisions on the ball, their passes are pretty crisp, and Tierney’s especially good on set pieces. Kinne’s showed some promise in practice – he’s certainly got talent, but from the handful of practices I’ve caught this season, he really didn’t stand out. It’d be nice to see him open some eyes during preseason, especially if Zerka leaves.

  3. Mat

    December 30, 2011 at 4:01 pm

    Really hope we bring Zerka back. Even though I was really happy with Caraglio, I feel that Zerka was the best signing we made last season. When he was in the lineup, we played better. I’m not opposed to bringing in a new young draft pick to play a wing or even forward spot but either way I hope Zerka is back.

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