New England Soccer Today

Disappointing Beginning

AJ Soares played left back for the first time in MLS on Saturday. (Photo Credit: Joshua Pearson)

It would be easy to chalk up the New England Revolution’s season opening 1-0 loss in San Jose to injuries, absences or even lack of chemistry thanks to so many late signings.

With Chris Tierney suspended, Saër Sène injured, Jose “Pepe” Moreno yet to arrive and Darrius Barnes a late injury scratch, the Revs had no shortage of ready-made excuses heading into the match. Yet the team’s inability to hold possession or breakdown the Earthquakes’ defense until late in the match was disappointing – regardless of the potential explanations – because of the possession/attack-oriented style head coach Jay Heaps has preached since taking charge.

“I’m a little disappointed in the way we played,” said Heaps. “We’re still getting accustomed to movements and the way we (want to) play. The overall technique tonight just wasn’t there. They came out flying. We matched their intensity. They continued to press, and we didn’t sort it out. Unfortunately, we gave up a goal, and we never really got back (into the game) after that.”

While the Revs were missing three players that could be penciled in as starters were they available, it hardly explains why the team often attempted to play such a direct style, launching long balls out of the back rather than holding possession. The attractive style the Revs played at times during preseason was almost completely absent until the team made some late subs.

“Unfortunately, we played their (the Earthquakes) game a little bit,” said Heaps. “We got sucked into it. They’re a strong, direct team. They play through (Steven) Lenhart. They play through (Chris Wondolowski). The game never got settled for us. It was, how are we going to adapt when the game doesn’t settle, when the game gets played over the top of our midfield. How do we then settle down to have our best chances?”

It was a learning experience for some. Rookie Kelyn Rowe and newcomer Fernando Cardenas took some time to get up to the speed of play in an MLS match. AJ Soares struggled while playing left back in a professional game for the first time and Stephen McCarthy had a few early miscues in his first MLS game as a center back.

What couldn’t be so easily excused were the disappointing performances of some of the veterans. Shalrie Joseph’s early give-away lead to San Jose’s goal and an additional mistake by the Revs captain nearly set up another great chance for the ‘Quakes. Kevin Alston often launched balls forward rather than playing a short pass. Benny Feilhaber got caught in possession a few times and wasted a good attack with a speculative long shot that was never going to beat goalkeeper Jon Busch.

“(Heaps) wants us to play a pass-and-move game, and not so much the direct game,” said Feilhaber. “That falls in perfectly for me, and Kelyn (Rowe) and (Shalrie Joseph), and a lot of those guys in the midfield that want to get the ball at their feet and play it. I think that will help us this year. Obviously, it didn’t come off as well as we would have liked in this first game.

“I think the second half was a little bit better than the first,” he added. “We created a couple more chances and tried to play a little more, but that tends to happen when you’re down. I don’t know how much you can take that into account, but at the same time, it’s not going to change overnight. There are things that we need to work on, and there are still bits that we are learning to improve on from last year.”

If one thing was clear Saturday, it’s that the team still does have plenty to work on before they can truly play the style Heaps’ envisions.  The first hour of the match was proof of that.

But, it wasn’t all hopeless. The addition of newcomer Lee Nguyen late in the match helped spark the team to life in the attack. Rookie Tyler Polak also helped the club keep possession and look dangerous going forward, even if at times some of his defensive shortcomings as a first-year professional were exposed.

Certainly the last half hour of the match gives the team something to build on. Now the question is if the team can start – and go ninety minutes – with the intensity they finished the match with on Saturday in San Jose.

With a trip to last year’s Eastern Conference regular season champions Sporting Kansas City on tap for next Saturday, the Revs will need to sort out their issues fast if they wish to avoid a 0-2 start.

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