New England Soccer Today

Technically Speaking: #NEvNY

Photo credit: Kari Heistad/

Photo credit: Kari Heistad/

Welcome to another installment of “Technically Speaking,” where our very own resident coach and former pro Rick Sewall takes a deeper look into the Revolution’s latest performance.

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

NESoccerToday: The biggest moment of Friday’s match was the goal-scoring sequence in which the Revs tallied while Kemar Lawrence was on the ground with an injury, a sequence which Red Bulls coach Jesse Marsch called “shameless.” What was your take? Should the Revs have kicked the ball out of bounds, or do you play to the whistle?

Rick: With regard to the referee, my advice to players is always (1) play to the whistle, and (2) don’t complain. Discussion with the referee is the way to go, with the team’s captain preferably the only one involved. Complaining is usually a sign of frustration, a situation teams should try to avoid, as it can take players’ concentration away from what is needed to win a game—the execution of proper offense and defense.

The Revs could have been super-sportsmanlike and kicked the ball out of bounds, but I think Jesse Marsch’s description of the way they dealt with the situation as “shameless” was extreme and even a little wimpy. Professional players know to play to the whistle and not to stop because a player is down—the referee is the one to decide. Besides, when Mark Geiger saw Kemar Lawrence resting on his left elbow, he had reason not to view the injury as critical.

As a side note, I am fully convinced that, if this situation had been reversed, Heaps response would have been right on the same page as Marsch. Given his past track record with referees, my guess is he would have been hopping mad. Indeed, I would not have wanted to listen to Heaps’s post-game interview if this had happened the other way around.

For the first time this year, Juan Agudelo got to start up top over Charlie Davies, yet it wasn’t long before Agudelo and Teal Bunbury had traded places. Are you surprised that Jay Heaps continues to pull Agudelo out of his natural position?

Rick: There’s nothing wrong with switching things around offensively to keep the other team guessing, as Heaps did both with this 23rd-minute switch and later in the half when he had Agudelo switch wings with Fagundez. But I’m skeptical that the value of mixing things up outweighs that of maximizing your forwards’ particular talents. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with putting the more skillful player (Agudelo) on the wing, but moving him wide means removing your most creative player (see his third-minute attempt) away from the area where he is most likely to score. Nor do I deny that speed is useful up top (it is in any position), but I like Bunbury’s speed on the flank, where he can beat a man to the end line and cross the ball, as he did in the 17th minute, and get back on defense as needed.

Given that the Revs’ goal Friday has to be viewed as to some extent a fluke, it would be hard to deny that as a team they are having trouble scoring. One goal per game is not enough. As I have said more than once in this column, Heaps’s continual omission of either Davies or Agudelo from the starting lineup does confuse me. I’d love to see him put them in together for a whole game in a 4-4-2 formation. Experimentation is appropriate, as it is still early in the MLS season.

It reminds me a little of the Rivera-Mazzola problem quandary the Italian national team faced in the World Cup of 1970. For whatever reason, these players (two of the best on the team) simply couldn’t play together. This was not, as I understand it, a coaching decision—it was personal between the two. So Mazzola played the first half (and only the first half) to defend, Rivera the second (and only the second) to attack. This reduction in force drove my Italian friends nuts.

It seems to be a recurring theme—Bobby Shuttleworth bails out the defense by making a few strong saves. What needs to be better in the defending third to keep Shuttleworth from continually being tested late?

Rick: First, playing Heaps’s favored 4-2-3-1 formation means that the wing fullbacks are going to have major offensive responsibilities, skewing the formation on the attack to look more like a 2-4-3-1. This offensive commitment can leave the team defensively undermanned, especially if the opposition is strong on the counterattack.

Second, man-marking has to be tighter in the penalty area. In the 81st minute, two Red Bull Players were unmarked on the far post on a Red Bull corner kick, one being Bradley Wright-Phillips, their most dangerous goal scorer. The Revs were lucky he didn’t sink his dead-on shot.

Third, especially when they’re up a goal, the Revs should get at least six men (and preferably seven or eight) back on defense, set and facing the opposition as it approaches the penalty area. This would be a solid defensive strategy, making it very difficult for the opposing team to penetrate toward the goal.

Another solution: Get N’golo Kante onto the Revs. He is a defensive (mainly) midfielder for Leicester City who, second to Jamie Vardy, is responsible for LC’s striking a seven-point lead in the BPL. Kante is seemingly always taking the ball away from hot-shot players on other hot-shot teams. In doing so takes a lot of pressure off the LC back four and goalkeeper. The problem? His name comes up as BPL footballer of the year, so he’d be out-of-sight expensive.

Based on the refereeing decisions we’ve seen over the last three Revs games, not to mention in matches across the league, does MLS have a refereeing problem?

Rick: I try not to get too concerned with the quality of refereeing in MLS (or any other) games. In this particular match, the only call I might question was the 61st-minute red card on Felipe. I felt he came in for the tackle only semi-hard and not totally exposing his studs. A borderline foul, and a borderline call—I could go either red or yellow here.

Where I think MLS has a problem is less with the referees than with the coaches and players who harp on them abusively. Jesse Marsch absolutely did not cover himself with glory when he ranted at Mark Geiger for the yellow card he issued to Mike Grella late in the second half, for shoving Charlie Davies.

The league has to come down hard on this stuff, even if it means throwing more red cards around. Professional players and coaches should not get away with tantrum-y bad sportsmanship. I’d like to see the refs mount a campaign to put an end to it.

All this said, ten or so years ago the relationship among players, coaches, and referees was a lot worse than it is now, with far too many referee calls aggressively and unpleasantly contested. As the quality of play has improved (and it clearly has), so has that of the refereeing.

What stood out the most to you from Friday’s game?

Rick: The Revs did well to keep the Red Bulls scoreless, considering the quality of their midfielders (Kljestan, McCarty, Felipe, and Sam) and of their strikers (Wright-Phillips and Grella). Most of the credit, I think, goes to the two center backs and the keeper.

Creating scoring chances still remains a problem for the Revs, especially in the run-of-play category. Beyond pairing Agudelo and Davies and letting them go at it together, getting a strong winger would be a big help. The Revs are pretty strong up the middle from keeper to striker.

Bobby Shuttleworth would add 10 to 15 yards to his goal kicks if he didn’t stagger backward after kicking them. He needs some serious changes in his kicking technique. These changes would not only increase his kicking distance, they would also enable him to vary the ball’s trajectory and speed. In baseball, one of the pitcher’s main objectives is to keep the batter guessing and off-balance. Same in soccer with goalkeeper kicks and punts.

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