New England Soccer Today

Technically Speaking: #HOUvNE

Photo credit: Kari Heistad/

Photo credit: Kari Heistad/

In a largely forgettable game, the Revs beat the Dynamo 2-1.

Why was it so unremarkable? Mainly because it was a generally sloppy game, a game that raises the further question: Why was the level of play so subpar?

On the Revs’ side, possibly because coach Jay Heaps made a calculated decision that, with his team already in the playoffs, he could afford to start four second-stringers (Patrick Mullins, Steve Neumann, Scott Caldwell, and Darrius Barnes), while resting starters (Jermaine Jones and Charlie Davies).

As for Houston, they have been decimated by injuries this season, weakening their lineup. Brad Davis, Omar Cummings, Andrew Driver, and Giles Barnes are good forwards, and Ricardo Clark is a good midfielder, but it is very difficult for the Dynamo to compete, given its weak back four. The team has given up about 56 goals this season, for a goal differential of minus-17.

Thus, both teams were playing sub-par lineups, albeit for different reasons. On top of this, it was a game where winning or losing was not critical for either team’s season outcome. Despite the fact that the Dynamo was eager to give coach Dominic Kinnear to a win in his final home game in Houston given the popularity and respect he has garnered from both fans and his players, and despite the fact that the Revs wanted to end the regular season as one of the top three in their division in order to avoid a mid-week knockout game, neither of these is a do-or-die incentive. At the end of a long season, when one team knows it has a playoff spot, the other knows it doesn’t, and not all that much is riding on the outcome, it is difficult for players to perform with unrelenting intensity.

At any rate, sloppy defense accounted largely for all three goals. Houston’s goal in the 37th minute was a result of bad defensive play by the Revs when Cummings, with the ball, easily outran A. J. Soares and shot on frame, causing a rebound that was pushed in by Giles Barnes, with Jose Goncalves still nowhere in sight.

As a center back, Goncalves should have been near his partner (Soares); it was his job to be in position to cover for any mistake Soares might make. I agree with Taylor Twellman’s analysis, late in the game, that the Revs have a problem at the center back position, as both players in it have recently been run around too easily by opposing forwards. Other MLS teams will see this problem and make hay of it.

Lee Nguyen scored in the 65th and 87th minutes, two nifty goals, for the Rev win. Yet, it is beyond me how any team can leave a hot player like Nguyen so wide open at the top of the penalty area, as Houston did on both goals. Dangerous goal scorers should be tightly marked in this area, but on both occasions the Houston players gave him at least five yards of free space and made no apparent effort to keep him away from his strong foot. (Although I’m not saying it’s never happened, I can’t recall a time when Nguyen scored with his left.)

Play of the game? Darrius Barnes’ sparkling pass assisting Nguyen’s second goal.

One of the objectives of professional leagues in all sports should be to minimize the number of meaningless games taking place at season’s end. In soccer, the implementation of a promotion-relegation system would do a lot to achieve this goal.

Obviously, promotion-relegation cannot by itself totally solve the problem, because two middle-of-the-table teams – teams with nowhere to go – can still play a similar game to Thursday’s (or, for that matter, to the England-Costa Rica game in the World Cup this past summer) with impunity.

But a pro/rel system will at least minimize this problem, putting enough on the line for bottom-of-the-table teams to create plenty of passion and interest. The same would happen for the top teams in the lower division – will they get promoted or not?

Put another way, might the complexion of Thursday night’s game have been different if Houston had been battling to stay in the division? I think it would.

I’m not saying that the MLS is presently in a position to implement a pro/rel system, just that this is a goal they should aim at and begin paving the way for.

Commissioner Don Garber’s recent diatribe against Jurgen Klinsmann doesn’t help the cause of soccer in America. It makes Garber look like a corporate stooge and an immature whiner at the same time. May not Klinsmann, a strong supporter of pro-rel (and an on-the-ground expert with a heck of a lot more background and experience with the game than Garber) speak his mind? Does he have to ask the commissioner’s permission before he says anything?

I think it’s obvious that Klinsmann is right – that American players will gain more by playing at the top levels in Europe than in the MLS. I also agree with him about Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley – especially Bradley, who did very poorly, almost embarrassingly so, when he helped hand the Revs three goals this summer while playing for Toronto.

If the MLS adopted a pro-rel system it would be the only professional league in America to have it. That in itself would create a lot of interest from many quarters, the press included.

One Comment

  1. jtsillas

    October 22, 2014 at 3:29 pm

    Alot of attention is being given to the prospect of pro/rel in US soccer. But we hear nothing about it from the USSF. The USSF should be the official planning committee on what US soccer is striving for in the long term. MLS is a business and will always look out for their investors, first and foremost. USSF needs to assert itself more and perhaps Jurgey’s comments were out of frustration because Gulati seems to go along with the MLS on everything. Maybe Klinsmann sees an opportunity to press for pro/rel by threatening to withold player spots for MLS players in order to prod Gulati to take a stand on this.

    I’m with Klinsmann on pro/rel. Not so much because on how it will add greater depth to the talent pool but because as a fan it adds another dimension to a team’s campaign. And because it rubs against money interests (which I despise in sports).

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