New England Soccer Today

Same Old Story

The Revs midfielders desire to dribble over playing the ball quickly has hurt the team lately. (Photo: Chris Aduama/

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — It’s the same story, just different night for the New England Revolution. The Montreal Impact came into Foxborough and took advantage of the one mistake New England made, while the Revolution didn’t have an answer for Montreal’s defensive shape.

“Heartbreaking. Disappointing. Not good enough,” said New England coach Jay Heaps after the game. “So, we’re struggling to find the way a little bit and it’s a really bad loss at home.”

The loss was made worse by the fact that a post and the crossbar stood in the way of New England taking a lead in the first half.  The missed chances weren’t the only reason Heaps was left searching for an answer after the game, though. It was his team’s inability to play the kind of game where mistakes don’t happen, because this season, when one mistake happens, New England has paid for it with goals and missed points. Losses hurt most because the Revs seem to have an inability to help themselves.

When Benny Feilhaber turned the ball over — the ball was stuck bouncing between his feet — just outside the Impact’s penalty area in the 61st minute, Montreal forward Sanna Nyassi pounced on him, poked the ball free and took  it the length of the field, skinning center back A.J. Soares, leaving the rest of the New England team in the dust, and blasted his shot past a diving Matt Reis. It was one weak turnover and poor recovering from Feilhaber and the rest of the New England midfield. The original mistake was forgivable, the ball is often poked free around the penalty area, but the tracking back and defending cost New England at least a point.

It was the kind of goal that teams looking for their identity and shape allow. New England was stretched through the midfield, there was no rotation to cover Feilhaber as he moved forward from his deep-lying playmaker role. New England’s defense sat deep, allowing Nyassi the space and time to get comfortable and confident as he chugged forward.

Still, the real problem for New England wasn’t how the goal was scored, but how the team tried to operate in space and attack Montreal, which lead to the acres of space Nyassi got after getting on the ball. There was little space to move  in the center of the field with Lee Nguyen and Saer Sene operating as inverted wingers and Jerry Bengtson playing through the middle.  There wasn’t enough space in the channels for New England to work the ball, which allowed Montreal to pinch in and slow down the quick dribbling Nguyen and the mobile Sene. It also allowed Montreal to find space when it gained control of the ball because it could find outlets outside of the middle of the field who were free from the cluster.

According to Revolution midfielder Clyde Simms, the Revolution wanted to press the Impact around half-field, where it hoped to force turnovers and turn them into quick counters with Nguyen and Sene running at defenders. The problem became that both Nguyen and Sene ran out of ideas and actually caused more problems with their desire to dribble instead of play the simple and quick passing that counter-attacking needs for it to be successful. With all the dribbling comes stagnant play off the ball, teammates start ball-watching and attacks run dry. It’s happened in past games, and happened again on Sunday, even though the team worked on it this week in practice.

“One thing we really concentrated on this week was playing one and two touch. I think a lot of times we get the ball out wide and no one really knows what’s going to happen,” said Simms after the game. “We have some really crafty guys that like to take guys on, and those are times that guys want to get in the box for those crosses. Tonight we got more balls in the box, guys were anticipating the ball a little better tonight so it’s definitely a step in the right direction we just have to keep working on it.”

New England attempted 19 crosses from open play, none were able to find another Revolution player who could get it past Montreal goalkeeper Troy Perkins. A lot of those crosses came late in the game when New England pushed for the equalizing goal and pressed as many players as it could forward. More of those crosses needed to come early in the game when Montreal wasn’t sitting deep and absorbing pressure. Instead, for the majority of the game Nguyen and Sene dribbled inside and took up Ryan Guy and Jerry Bengtson’s space — Bengtson had just 13 touches in 62 minutes — making them obstacles instead of helpful teammates.

If Heaps wants to continue with inverted wingers, Nguyen and Sene need to find a balance with their teammates and movement patterns need to be worked out. If New England continues try and dribble through defenses, it’s going to continue to find life hard in the rough and tumble world of Major League Soccer, where tackles fly in and plenty of fouls go uncalled. Heaps has the players with the skill sets to employ a pass and move system he desires. He just needs to find  a way to get his team to operate as a unit instead of a group of individuals. And he desperately needs to find a way to stop the fatal mistakes that cost the team week in and week out. Otherwise this season will be another long one with little light at the end of the tunnel.


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