New England Soccer Today

Technically Speaking: Revs Season in Review

Photo credit: Kari Heistad/

Photo credit: Kari Heistad/

Welcome to the season-ending installment of “Technically Speaking,” where our very own resident coach and former pro Rick Sewall takes a deeper look into the Revolution’s performance across the entirety of the 2015 season.

Have any questions you’d like Rick to address? Feel free to ask away in the comments section below.


1. Given what we saw over the course of the season, what held this team back the most from putting together the kind of season we saw from them last year?

Rick: An overall decline in performance by both Jermaine Jones and Lee Nguyen.

In 2014, Jones’s arrival in August transformed a team that was in the doldrums of a summer slump to a team that played inspired soccer, helping them to advance to a favorable playoff position.  Most notably, Nguyen was set free to be a dominant MLS player, dribbling, playmaking, and scoring so effectively that he nearly won the MLS MVP award.

After the MLS Cup final against the Galaxy last year, the writing was on the wall because the LA staff was able to devise a game plan that negated a lot of both players’ effectiveness. I wasn’t in the room when the LA staff devised the plan, but it seems to me that they decided to watch both players much more closely. In Nguyen’s case, this plan was made easier by his tendency to dribble more than usual for an offensive midfielder, and this led to some hard tackling and consequent fouling, to the point where he became one of the most-fouled players in the MLS.  In 2015, opposing teams copied the LA plan, and with some noticeable success. Jones had no goals or assists in about 20 games, and Nguyen’s scoring point total was far less than that of the 2014 season.

But Jones’ two surgeries also took a toll. It is hard enough to play a demanding midfield position at age 33 when you’re at 100%. With the procedures, he seemed to be a half-step behind last year’s performance. This did not keep him from being a major contributor – or from playing a very strong game vs DC United, forcing Bill Hamid into a great save in the waning minutes with a header that could have been a tying goal.  He also seemed to be the only player who shot the ball pretty well from distance.

Nguyen’s contract issue was another problem. You can’t blame him for feeling disrespected and discouraged with his contract, and it is difficult not to blame the front office for grossly underpaying him. For a few games he was not up to par, but the professionalism with which he eventually rose above the problem was great to see.

2. What area of the field would you look to improve during the offseason in terms of player acquisitions?

Rick: The defense lacks speed and is prone to positional and ball-watching errors, and the offense lacks a fast and tricky winger, so:

Whether or not Jose Goncalves and Jermaine Jones return, I would like to see the Revs get a defender who knows how to position himself when man-marking, coordinates his movements with those of his teammates, is savvy concerning the off-side trap, and is agile and quick enough to get in the way of an explosive opposing forward.  They also need a winger quick and skillful enough to threaten an opposing back to the endline before crossing, a skill that makes it more possible for him to dribble toward the middle of the field before shooting.

On defense, if Jose leaves, they should get a centerback. If not, they should get an outside back.

The anticipated departure of Jones would at least help to pay for the acquisition of these players.

3. There’s  no question that the biggest question mark this winter is whether Jermaine Jones comes back.  If he doesn’t, how far back does it set the Revs given his leadership both on and off the pitch?

Rick: When Jones arrived in the summer of 2014,  a number of teammates said it was like playing with a coach on the field.  Unless they get an experienced player with his level of talent (always possible), he’ll be sorely missed on the field. He is one of those players with the knack for raising the level of all his teammates’ play.

In another aspect of on-field leadership – the role of talking calmly to the referee with the purpose of establishing a positive relationship with him, and the ability to deter teammates from responding negatively to fouls or referee calls – the Revs have some other pretty level-headed players who can take this role on. Scott Caldwell and Jose Goncalves (if he stays) come immediately to mind.

4. In hindsight, do you think the fact that the captain’s armband rotated between Jones and Goncalves undermined the Revs’ efforts to build an identity?

Rick: I don’t think so. First, the team’s identity is built first and foremost by the coaching staff.  They do this by instilling the style of play they think will be the most effective, and by deciding who will be in the starting lineup and who will be the subs.

One could argue that, beginning in the summer of 2014 , Jones should have been captain whenever he played because of his vast experience and his constructive effect on other players. I don’t know what the Revs’ locker-room atmosphere is like, so it is hard to say whether or not this captain armband rotation became an issue. I can’t quite imagine that they worried seriously about who would be captain.

5. What stood out the most, whether positive or negative (or both), about the way the Revs played this year?

Rick: On the positive side, the Revs continued to play with one of the better ball possession styles in the league, with Nguyen acting as catalyst, and the Revs usually coming out on top in the possession stats and frequently putting together sparkling offensive sequences.

Bobby Shuttleworth was excellent, although I wish he would work on his left-footed kicking on back passes from teammates. Ability to kick with your weaker foot can occasionally be key, even for a goalkeeper.

Caldwell continues to improve.  His pairing with Jones is a huge improvement over the Revs team of four years ago, if only from a positional standpoint.

Andrew Farrell had some great games. If he can cut down on avoidable mistakes (he is still making them), he will be even better next year.

Tierney’s left foot was at Premier League-level.

On the negative side, I can’t help faulting the caoching staff for getting stuck in the 4-2-3-1 formation. This formation made it impossible to play Charlie Davies and Juan Agudelo, their best goal scorers, at the same time. Both were in the Revs’ top 11, and both deserved to start. With the exception of the NYC FC game (the team with the ever-so-weak defense), the Revs had real goal-scoring problems over the last few games. Putting these two players into these games together might easily have made a difference.

Could not Caldwell have played right back, with Nguyen sitting back deeper to help Jones defensively?  This change could have kept the defense basically intact, while adding desired firepower up top with Davies paired with a deep-lying Agudelo.

Also, why not put Tierney at left midfield with Kevin Alston at left back, in order to take real advantage of Tierney’s left foot? Teal Bunbury is stronger to the endline than Kelyn Rowe and might therefore have started in his place. I was disappointed with Diego Fagundez. As has happened before, with a rise in the level and intensity of play, he became less and less of a factor.

The whole team, to score more goals from outside the area, still has to learn to shoot properly. Being told how to execute the skill isn’t enough. The skill has to be taught, much the same way as the golf swing is. It takes time, knowledge of a step-by-step progression, and a lot of painstaking patience.

Andrew Farrell hasn’t scored in three years, mainly because he has little confidence in his power kick.

An additional benefit to learning proper power kicking technique is that, once you have learned it with your stronger foot, it is relative easy to transfer the technique to the weaker foot. One-footers like Fagundez, Rowe, and Nguyen could become doubly effective as shooters if they focused on learning the proper technique.

Looking significantly further into the future: the Academy’s 14-year-olds would benefit tremendously from similar instruction.


  1. BWG

    November 9, 2015 at 7:18 pm


    While the occasion is not a happy one it is good to have you and you analysis back!

    I was wondering if you might expand your thoughts on wingers versus wide play? Generally there is a lack of true wingers not just for the revs but in MLS and indeed internationally as well. What do you think the reason for this? Is it the lack of talented target forwards in the current game, the change in tactics, an inability to teach the position, or just a transient trend inspired by tiki taka. Despite this trend the best teams still know how to effectively use width albeit differently. Generally play on not just the revs but mls as a whole do not effectively use width. Do you have a sense of why? Is it cultural impatience in lateral play for players or that coaches do not know how to train players to do this and explain how it can open the field. I’d think for someone like fagundez or Rowe or Bunbury standing on the touch lines to spread the field would not only open space for jones and Nguyen to operate but provide them with the room to maneuver. Is it we do not know how to coach our players?

  2. rick sewall

    November 10, 2015 at 11:34 am

    Currently, most professional teams are using a 4-4-2 or a 4-2-3-1 formation, which means that the outside forwards are a combination of midfielders and wingers, and the left and right backs, by overlapping, are assuming a greater role for establishing team width when attacking the goal.
    In the old days outside fullbacks used to big and tough, and thereby not as quick as they should be, and were being eaten alive by nippy wingers like Stanley Mathews . Now, the improved speed and quickness of the outside backs are being used to stop, often effectively so, opposing wingers. The Revs are currently using Fagundez and Rowe as outside forwards in the 4-2-3-1 formation. Because they are not explosive wingers, they are not expected to beat opposing backs to the end line on a regular basis, but are expected (among other things) to to hold the ball and look for the overlapping back (Tierney, Alston, Woodberry,etc.)
    I remember the 1995 Ajax Amsterdam team, which attacked with two pure wingers in a 4-3-3 formation, they being Marc Overmars and Finidi George. Behind them they had two excellent outside backs, Frank DeBoer and Michael Reisiger. Both Overmars and George were very fast and tricky,and they played a big role in having Ajax voted the best club team in the world in 1995.
    Coaches recognize this nice -to-have talent. If I had two very fast and tricky wingers I would use a 4-3-3 formation , with the wingers playing wide and as far up the field as possible, and I would try to have them see a lot of the ball.
    The problem for coaches is that players like these don’t come along every day, and, when they do, they are very expensive.
    BWG, hope this answers your questions. If not, feel free to ask again.

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