New England Soccer Today

Offensive Sham

For a team that had been held scoreless five times in their previous ten matches, seeing the ball in the back of the net three times was a welcome sight for the New England Revolution on Monday. Unfortunately the manner in which the three goals came and the overall performance of the offense left little reason to think the Revs have turned a corner.

Chris Tierney, when given space, has provided quality service for the Revs forwards, but the team's offense needs more. (Photo by CHRIS ADUAMA/

A quick glance at the weekend’s scores and a 3-3 draw against one of the league’s top teams in Real Salt Lake would seem like a positive result for the Revolution. Watching the game, however, would tell something different.

The Revs got off to a fast start thanks to a fluke breakaway for Benny Feilhaber and subsequent questionable-at-best penalty kick and red card handed out by referee Yader Reyes. Rajko Lekic converted the spot kick and Chris Tierney took advantage of a poor Salt Lake wall to give the Revs a 2-0 with a well hit free kick in just the 16th minute.

The poor defense that would then allow Salt Lake to get back into the game and eventually earn a draw, despite Shalrie Joseph scoring a third goal for the Revs off a Feilhaber free kick to give the visitors a 3-2 second half lead, was worrying. More worrying, however, was the offense’s inability to produce anything from the run of play despite holding a man advantage for over an hour.

Sure, the Revs scored three goals – all from set pieces – yet the team never looked a threat to score from the run of play. Nothing had changed from the Revs recent struggles that trace back to Marko Perovic’s last game for the team on April 23rd.

The same problems are still there: Kevin Alston and Sainey Nyassi’s struggles to deliver good service in the final third; Lekic’s problems holding the ball up while frequently isolated as the lone striker up top; Feilhaber’s difficulty finding a position and seeing enough of the ball to make an impact; too much burden placed on Joseph to help the team hold possession; and Tierney’s troubles finding space to deliver service from the left, just to name a few.

And in the nearly three months since Perovic last played, thanks in part to those problems, the Revs have managed just a solitary goal from the run of play. That’s right; New England has scored just ONE goal that hasn’t come off a set piece in the last 11 games.

But perhaps just as worrying on Monday was the Revs inability to keep possession despite their man advantage. At halftime, ten-man RSL had held 60% of the possession.

Possession has been a problem all season for the Revs, but to see it exposed in a game they led 2-0 with an extra man was stunning. The Revs were in the best position any team on the road could hope for and yet they never looked comfortable.

Thanks to their inability to create dangerous opportunities in the final third, the Revs very much look like a team that’s struggling just to stay out of last place. And the team has shown next to nothing in the past eleven games that indicates that may change.

Some of the team’s problems can be addressed within the squad. Lekic looked more dangerous up top when partnered with Kenny Mansally in the Revs two-game homestand against Toronto FC and the Chicago Fire. Zack Schilawski is another option to partner Lekic up top.

The Revs have seemingly looked more dangerous all season long while employing two strikers. That Head Coach Steve Nicol dropped the 4-4-2 formation just as it seemed to be clicking after those two mid-June home games is puzzling.

Sure, Nicol needed to find Feilhaber, a U.S. International, a spot on the field, but in changing the formation the Revs have actually played worse with Feilhaber on the field than the previous two games without him. Feilhaber hasn’t looked very comfortable positioned between the lone striker and the midfielders either.

Moving Feilhaber further back, while adding a second striker, would give the creative midfielder more options in the attack, while also taking some of the pressure off of Joseph while the Revs are on offense. Defense may be sacrificed a bit, but the likely increased possession from the move might more than make up for it.

Of course such a move will only solve part of the Revs problems. Better service is needed from the wings and has been since Steve Ralston left at the end of the 2009 season. Nyassi has shown improvement over the past month and Tierney can deliver a good ball when given space, but it’s still not enough.

Up top, none of the Revs strikers have come close to filling the void left by Taylor Twellman’s retirement. That the midfield hasn’t created many chances is certainly a factor, but Lekic hasn’t done enough with his opportunities to show he can be that player and nor has Schilawski, Mansally or Kheli Dube. That’s not to say any of them should be written off yet, but improvement needs to be shown throughout the field.

The Revs are a far cry from the MLS Cup contender they were last decade and it goes without saying, especially now that Perovic is gone, that new additions are needed to get this team even to the level of fighting for a playoff berth. Unfortunately, as the Revs have shown in recent years, finding those players is never easy.

Perhaps the lone positive from Monday’s draw is that three goals may have given the Revs’ attack some confidence going forward. Nicol might be wise to capitalize on that confidence, something that seemed to be missing a few weeks ago in the two home draws as the Revs spurned numerous chances, by returning to the more offensive minded 4-4-2 and hoping his forwards can now thrive on the more opportunities that formation should bring.

It may not be enough to save the Revs season, but it might just provide for a more exciting second half to what’s been a dismal year.


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