New England Soccer Today

Moving Parts

Rookie Kelyn Rowe's ability to play in the center or out wide on either flank gives Heaps flexibility in his lineup decisions. (Photo: Chris Aduama/

One frequently mentioned change by both the players and coaching staff under new head coach Jay Heaps is the planned use of video to help break down opponents. Heaps gave a glimpse of just what was being talked about with the New England Revolution’s strategy against the 2011 MLS Cup Champion Los Angeles Galaxy in their 3-2 victory in Tucson, Ariz., on Wednesday night.

In the past, when previous head coach Steve Nicol handed in his teamsheet for a match the general idea appeared to be to focus almost solely on what the Revs were doing. The theory seemed to be if the Revs played their game well, it didn’t matter what their opponent did.

It worked – and worked well – when the Revs were one of the more talented squads in the league from 2005 to 2007. The past few seasons, however, if there was a talent gap between the Revs and their opponents it certainly wasn’t a positive one.

Imposing the Revs will on opponents no longer seemed possible for the team. Instead of beating their opponents using the same formula each game, the Revs were getting beat by the same opponents – and the same players – in the same way each time they faced a familiar foe.

Certainly in the 2012 edition of MLS, beating a team like the Los Angeles Galaxy is highly unlikely if a coach focuses solely on his own club and ignores the strengths and weaknesses of his opponents. If Wednesday night’s 3-2 preseason victory over the Galaxy was any indication, Heaps knows it.

Heading into the match, it appeared Heaps’ preferred midfield based on the previous preseason games features rookie Kelyn Rowe at left midfield, Shalrie Joseph and Benny Feilhaber in the center and Sainey Nyassi or Alec Purdie on the right. Thus it may have come as a bit of a surprise on Wednesday to see Heaps trot out a line-up featuring Feilhaber on the left, Rowe on the right and Clyde Simms partnering Joseph in the middle.

The change may have been partially influenced by Nyassi’s injury or Ryan Guy’s fitness, due to recovery from an injury of his own, but more importantly it came from what Heaps saw from the Galaxy. With right back Sean Franklin and outside midfielder Landon Donovan missing from Los Angeles’ line-up, he likely felt New England didn’t need to be overly concerned about the Galaxy attacking down the Revs’ left flank.

On the flip side, however, he saw veteran left back Todd Dunivant and the versatile and dangerous left midfielder Mike Magee as a concern attacking the Revs’ right flank. Heaps thought Rowe was the man to help Darrius Barnes defend that side and switched him from the left to the right for the match.

“I think that what we did there was Kelyn Rowe is a little bit more dynamic in his ability to cover that flank play, so he had a little bit more of a responsibility covering Dunivant, because Dunivant – as all of us know – is an overlapping left back the way LA plays,” Heaps told the media in a conference call on Thursday. “I thought Kelyn did an excellent job of having to defend, but he also created a lot of width for us.”

Knowing the Galaxy had the always dangerous David Beckham in the middle may have influenced Heaps to add Simms besides Joseph in the center to really give the Revs some defensive bite. And Heaps felt comfortable doing that because he believed he didn’t have to put too much emphasis on defending the Revs’ left flank against Galaxy’s weakened right side.

Feilhaber, who seems more comfortable in the center, but can play on the left, was allowed to focus on the attack and pinch inside, despite lining up as a left midfield. This left Chris Tierney to handle most of the defensive responsibilities and put him in charge of aiding the attack by providing width from the left when possible.

“On the left side where Benny was, Benny took up great positions,” said Heaps. “We gave him a lot of freedom and we wanted him pinched in and helping in the center a little bit more and it allowed Chris Tierney to provide the width on the left side.

“But overall, it was a little bit more hitched in the sense that Kelyn was on the right and Benny was more in the middle than he was on the left,” Heaps added. “But I think that that freedom that we allowed Benny showed because he was able to build and help our attack.”

That freedom allowed Feilhaber to get forward and into the box, positioning himself for his stunning bicycle kick goal in just the second minute of the match. If there were any concerns about Feilhaber having less of an influence on the match by playing on the left, they were unwarranted in this match if only because Feilhaber was essentially a left midfielder in name only.

But just because it worked this match, don’t expect to see Heaps sending Feilhaber out there every game. Were Donovan and Franklin out there, it seems unlikely Heaps would’ve felt as comfortable leaving so much pressure on Tierney.

On the right side, concerns about Rowe playing on the right seem to have been lessened by his impressive performance on Wednesday. The rookie looked comfortable out there, perhaps more so than he had in the Revs prior preseason matches.

“[I’m] definitely comfortable playing out wide,” said Rowe in Thursday’s conference call. “I’ve played there before and I’ve played it with the national team, and Jay [Heaps] and the guys have really helped me out there.

“Playing against MLS opposition, playing against the LA Galaxy, the champions last year, it was definitely difficult,” he added. “We talked about getting up and down that line so I was definitely doing a lot of running. It was a good first game to get my feet wet and get into the game.”

Having a player in Rowe that can play comfortably in the center or the wings should prove very valuable to Heaps as he looks to gain an edge on opponents during the 2012 season.

Heaps’ tactical skills will face another stern test on Saturday night as the Revs face the New York Red Bulls at 10 p.m. EST in their second match of the FC Tucson Desert Diamond Cup

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