New England Soccer Today

Technically Speaking: Midseason Report

Photo credit: Kari Heistad/

Photo credit: Kari Heistad/

Whither the Revs?

At the midway juncture of the season, anything is possible. From what I saw in Sunday’s game vs DC United, the Revs could do well and go far into the playoffs; stay as they are and just make the playoffs; or do poorly and miss out on the post-season altogether. This prediction is difficult to make, largely as a result of Jermaine Jones’ unfortunate absence from the field.

Sunday’s game, generally reflective of the first half of the season, was a classic “Tale of Two Halves,” with the Revs ending the first half leading by a goal – but only one, when getting three would hardly have been surprising, given the run of play. A fair score for this game would have been 2 or 3 to nothing for the Revs: they had enough good chances to have this lead at halftime.

Maybe because of the heat (did they suffer from failing to pace themselves in the first 45?), the Revs had a distinct 20-minute downturn in their play from about the 60th to the 80th minutes. In this slump period, the Revs repaid the DC favor of not properly marking Charlie Davies on his early goal by in turn leaving Chris Rolfe totally unmarked. Steve Neumann’s sloppy fouling of Jairo Arrieta in the penalty area resulted in the second DC goal (Rolfe’s authoritative penalty shot). The first goal was an example of poor defense on the Revs’ part away from the ball, the second poor defense on the ball.

Twenty minutes of bad soccer is often sufficient to negate adequate-to-very-good soccer for the 70 minutes after that. The Revs’ lack of consistency in Sunday’s game is a reason why they defy prediction at this juncture. Jones’ absence beyond question contributes to this problem, as he is the major steadying and lifting influence on the team’s overall performance.

The Revs on offense:

By using a 4-2-3-1 formation, the Revs are deploying four full-time forwards. The quartet of Charlie Davies, Juan Agudelo, Lee Nguyen, and Teal Bunbury, ably assisted by two backs who are very good crossers of the ball (Chris Tierney and London Woodberry), provides enviable offensive thrust. Many other teams would salivate at having this group of attackers. I would feel better, however, if a defensive midfielder (namely, Jones) were more clearly included in the offensive mix. I get the feeling that the Revs will have difficulty scoring more than one goal against a strong team before the return of Jones. They need his offensive contributions, as last season showed quite clearly.

The Revs on defense:

The problems the Revs have are the aforementioned failures of man-marking on and off the ball, supplemented by overreliance on the offside trap. When a defender lazily relies on the offside trap instead of staying with a runner (as happened, perhaps most notably, with Robbie Keane last December in the final vs. LA), it is simply bad defense. Both of these problems are correctable, with appropriate coaching

What needs to be corrected:

For a number of reasons, several Rev players are failing to score goals as they have in the past, especially Nguyen. A reason frequently cited for his drop in production this year is that he has lost confidence, lost the self-assurance in his shot that he had last year. Maybe, but I would add to this assessment that one reason for this lack of confidence is his erratic kicking technique. He shoots with the inside of the big toe, with a semi-flexed ankle and a circular leg swing that ends with crossed legs. All these factors combine to give him a small margin of error. Add to this suspect technique the tendency to aim for a corner of the goal, to “shape” the ball, as Paul Mariner says, and the margin for error becomes even smaller – especially because this “shaping” takes the shooter’s focus off the ball, deflecting it instead to the intended target, and thus often resulting in a flubbed shot.

On the other hand, a player who shoots with the orthodox instep drive will do so with much more confidence, especially when shooting from outside the area. Why? Because the instep surface is larger than that of the inside of the big toe, and the ankle is solidly plantar-flexed throughout the leg swing. The leg is swung directly in the intended direction of the shot, and at the end of the follow-through the kicker ideally hops forward on the placement foot, enabling him to get the full power generated by the hip joint into the kick, while staying on balance.

When shooting with the instep, one’s focus is totally on the ball. When players are passing the ball around, coaches correctly encourage them to look up and around to be as aware as possible of the full field, but when shooting with the instep a player’s focus narrows to a point – the point of the ball. The shooter is not aiming; he is focusing only on blasting the ball toward the target.

Put another way: a good forward will instinctively know where the target is, so for him, in the process of shooting, the field suddenly narrows to the size of the ball, which he he is totally focused on. This aspect of shooting –unrelenting focus on the ball – cannot be overemphasized. It is as essential in soccer as it is in baseball, golf, and tennis.

I cannot also overemphasize the confidence a player has if he shoots properly with the instep. Hitting the goal-mouth from outside the area is suddenly no longer a hit-or-miss situation. The ball will only rarely soar over the crossbar. It may miss wide, but not by very much.

The power kick is the biggest technical weakness in professional soccer. For the Revs, the old axiom that you cannot teach old dogs new tricks may hold true, but their coaching staff has the perfect opportunity to remedy this problem, if they would only choose to.

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