With this past weekend’s loss the losing streak now stands at seven matches.
Worse than that- much worse than that- is that the Revolution never looked like winning- or even drawing- any of these matches. Spin the results anyway you like, the Revolution have scored only three times during this seven match stretch and never more than once in any of them. In fact, to find the last time the Revolution won a match or scored more than one goal one must go back to their U.S. Open Cup matches against lower league sides Richmond and Rochester. As soon as they encountered MLS competition in the cup they were bounced out, 2-0, by Philadelphia.
Let’s tackle the on-the-field-issues first- they’re probably less severe than the off-the-field problems.
First off, it’s not the defense.
During this worst-ever stretch of matches for the Revolution the defense has given up more than two goals only once (the 5-1 shellacking by the Galaxy being the outlier). That may not be the kind of “math” that leads to a lot of wins, but it has to lead to some draws, especially at home, doesn’t it?
I’m sure at some point during this streak Bobby Shuttleworth and Brad Knighton have given up a bad goal or two, but honestly, none come to mind and certainly none that provide an explanatory, “Aha! THAT’S the problem!” moment.
The same can be said about the back line. Most often comprised of Jose Goncalves, A.J. Soares, Andrew Farrell and Darius Barnes/Chris Tierney the worst you can probably say of them is that they’ve been “solid.” Soares is still occasionally prone the the “red mist,” and Farrell does tend to roam too far afield at times, but on balance they are doing a fine job. As with the goalkeepers, there have been some lapses leading to bad goals, but it’s not be chronic.
The midfield? When healthy (meaning when Andy Dorman is on the field) it might be one of the best in MLS. “Unhealthy” it is still very good. The trio of Lee Nguyen (how did he not make the All-Star team?!), Daigo Kobayashi, Andy Dorman and Diego Fagundez/Chris Tierney is as good as they come. Technical, creative, tenacious, each has a role he plays to the hilt. Nguyen can hold the ball up as well as any player in the league. Teirney is as hard a worker as you will ever see and has a lethal left foot. Kobayashi is a ball winner. Fagundez has the flair and creativity to create a goal or assist out of nothing.
The problem, folks, is the front line…or front “dot” (see, I remember my geometry!). This problem manifests itself in two ways.
1. There is no “threat” that opposing defenses have to key on, no single dangerous player who can draw multiple defenders, leaving his teammates open for easier scoring opportunities. There are multiple players- Nguyen, Fagundez, Rowe (well, last year anyway), etc. who “can” score if they get the ball in a good position, but there is no player on the team who opposing defenses or coaches have to “game plan” (ugh, sorry) for going into a match. Think about Robbie Keane- is there a team that doesn’t worry about him getting a ball within 25 yards of goal? Now think about New England- is anyone worried about Jerry Bengston getting the ball 2.5 yards from goal? No, not unless it’s 2010 and it’s a club in the Liga Nacional de Fútbol Profesional de Honduras.
2. The result of having no threat on offense is that opposing defenses can simply sit back, watch New England continue to send numbers into the offensive third of the field in the hope that one of them might get a shot, win the ball, and then launch a counter attack against a team with two-thirds of it’s players facing the wrong way. It this point it doesn’t matter how good the New England defense or goalkeeping is- they are outnumbered. Further exacerbating the problem is that too often some of the defensive players- Farrell and Tierney especially, Darius Barnes to a lesser extent- are making long funs forward to try and help out the offense, pulling them out of position as well.
More on the players, and maybe even some solutions, below. But first, the coach…
I should probably lay all of my cards on the table where Jay Heaps is concerned, lest their be any confusion as to where I stand. I’ve been pushing for him to be coach since the untimely and unnecessary departure of Steve Nicol (wipes away single tear). One of the second post on this website- way back in October of 2011- pushed for his appointment. Now, two and a half years later, I stand by my man- I think he is still the coach to lead this club forward.
It is also worth noting that I have was a Jay Heaps “booster” as a player as well. Jay is, for me, a “home town” guy and I am the worst kind of “homer.” Jay was born in Nashua, NH (I grew up in NH), he grew up in Western MA (where I currently live), and that as a player Heaps conducted himself in the way I want “my” players to- he played every minute of every match and he played those minutes as though they were his last. He was athletic, hard as nails, and the first player to stand up for a teammate.
But getting back to Jay Heaps, beleaguered manager of the New England Revolution.
If New England (Boston) had anything even remotely approaching a “footballing press” I am sure that, in the wake of the current seven match losing streak, there would be pundits and columnists criticizing everything from his tactical decisions to his neon green wristwatch (I really hope somebody is paying him to wear it, it’s atrocious) and calling for him to be fired- and they would be wrong. I’ve never been an advocate of firing the coach (with the notably recent example of Bobby Valentine’s tenure with my beloved Red Sox) for the simple reason that in most cases, it’s not that simple.
I’ll start with two things that Heaps has done absolutely right- two things that were ingrained in me by one of the best coaches in the history of American high school soccer and that I believe in to this day- he has his players as fit as possible and there is not a team in MLS that tries harder to win each and every match. There is no quit in this team, just like there is no quit in this coach, and that’s why we- supporters, press, whomever- should not quit on him.
Furthermore, Heaps has tried everything humanly possible to get the most out of this team and the players that make it up. It is an absolute meritocracy, he has experimented with new line-ups, he has experimented with new formations, he has experimented with bringing different players off the bench in different times/situations. The results have been on average, average. Yes, there was a purple patch a few weeks into the season, and yes, things look pretty dire now, but on average, tinkering with this team- whatever form it may have taken- hasn’t done much to change the end result. What that tells me is, the talent isn’t there. Or, to be more specific, the right kind of talent isn’t there. I suspect Heaps knows exactly what he needs (by addition and/or subtraction) to make this club better, but more on this topic below, as well.
In Part Two: