The one redeeming part of traveling to Gillette Stadium, where the New York Red Bulls have a jaw-dropping seventeen game winless streak against the New England Revolution, is the chance to get some insight from the Founder and Editor of "The Bent Musket," Steven Stoehr.
Read on for Steve's thoughts on New England's porous defense, surprising number of shots on goal, and the recent departure of former team captain, Shalrie Joseph.
1) New England has allowed the third most goals in the Eastern Conference (40), right ahead of (surprise!) the third-place New York Red Bulls. Can you talk about the team's defensive problems? Who is most responsible for the high number of conceded goals?
It seems like every time something wrong with the defense gets fixed this year, something else falls apart. Early in the season it was Stephen McCarthy
struggling to adapt to his new center-back position. Then, when he figured that out, the defense got a lot better - until Matt Reis
forgot how to defend set pieces. Then Reis hit a better patch of form, but all of a sudden the team collectively decided that they didn't have to pay attention for 90 minutes anymore, and started conceding goals in stupid situations, like off of throw-ins, or because players weren't tracking even the most obvious of runs. Add to that a dip in the form of A.J. Soares
, and really you're just looking at a situation where everything that can go wrong, does go wrong.
It's tough to blame any one person for this. Midfield giveaways have put the defense under pressure. Individual mistakes from McCarthy and Soares have led to goals. Chris Tierney
has been beaten for speed on the left at times, and Kevin Alston
is prone to fits of wanderlust on the right, killing the team shape and giving the opponents plenty of scoring chances. Reis had a couple of bad games. To summarize, it's been a nice group effort to get the defense in this kind of position, and I'm honestly not sure how to fix it.
2) The Revolution has the second most shots on goal (SOG) in MLS, but has scored just the eleventh most goals. Only one other team is in the top ten for SOG but not goals (the Colorado Rapids). Is the issue for New England needing to create better quality changes, a little bad luck, or something else? Who on the Revolution is most likely to finish an opportunity to score on the attack and who is least likely?
I think it's a mix of the first two, really. Normally when a team puts this many shots on goal, they score a lot of goals. It's an old adage in soccer (and in hockey, really) that when you put the ball on net, good things happen. Unfortunately, that hasn't necessarily worked for the Revs. Part of that is definitely because of bad luck, but part of that also has to do with the Revs not putting themselves in great positions to score. Shots on goal are great, but when you're firing straight at the keeper from an acute angle where it would honestly be very difficult for the goalkeeper to avoid saving it, that shot on goal doesn't mean too much. This team needs to start getting into more dangerous positions, so the accuracy of the shooting translates into points on the board.
With Saer Sene out, the most likely Revs to finish attacks would be Jerry Bengtson
, Kelyn Rowe
, and Lee Nguyen. You can determine that simply by virtue of the stats, and I can't think of anyone else more likely to score at this point. Least likely...probably Clyde Simms. Clyde's few real ventures towards goal have been largely disappointing, although he's not paid to score, so it's acceptable that he really can't shoot. A few weeks ago I would have said Kevin Alston, but since being shifted to left back Kevin's actually made some dangerous moves and even had a couple of dangerous attempts on goal. He's probably the second-least likely now.
3) Two big midseason player transactions stand out this year: the addition of Honduran international Jerry Bengtson and the trade of previous team captain Shalrie Joseph to Chivas USA. Can you talk a little about what each move has meant for New England? Were there other notable transfer moves this summer that could have either an impact on the match on Saturday or long-term?
Losing Sharlie was a punch in the gut for this franchise. He's been the heart and soul of the Revs for so long, and even with his diminished capabilities, the Revs hadn't found a way to win without him in years. It required the midfield to totally change what they were doing and how they operated, and left a leadership vacuum that still hasn't quite been filled. That said, it has definitely freed up this club to move forward and on with a new chapter, and the move was probably necessary.
Jerry, meanwhile, has been a mixed bag. He plays well, the fans love him, but he's actually gotten more time with the Honduran national team since signing with the Revs than he has with his club. That said, Jerry's quality is evident every time he touches the ball. As he continues to work and get into sync with his teammates, I think you'll start to see the real impact he can bring to this league.
The only other major signing you're missing is Juan Toja. He made his Revolution debut last weekend, and should be able to feature this weekend as well. MLS fans know Toja pretty well, and it looks like he hasn't lost a step in his time abroad.
4) In their match last Saturday night, losing to D.C. United ensured that New England will not make the playoffs for the third straight year. How do you think officially being out of playoff contention will affect the team and specifically how head coach Jay Heaps lines up against New York?
Honestly, I think it's a burden off the team's shoulders. As a true competitor, you never want to concede defeat if there's even a minimal chance of victory, and these guys are no different. I know for a fact that Jay Heaps absolutely hates to lose. Telling the players that there was still a mathematical chance at the playoffs is like teasing a starving dog with a hunk of meat that it only has a 0.02% chance of getting to - it's cruel, because you know the dog is still going to try for the meat, even if it dies in the process. Now that the playoffs are totally out of the picture, the Revs can come out and play pressure-free soccer. It will also give the coaching staff a chance to assess some fringe players and get an idea of what next season's Revolution will look like.
That said, beating New York is something that all Revolution players and fans enjoy, so I expect that Heaps will run with a full-strength lineup on Saturday.
5) What does New England need to do in the offseason in order to compete with the best of the Eastern Conference next year?
There's talent here, without a doubt. There's a core that can be built upon and there's a real chance that next season could be a lot better than the last three have been. The Revs need to fill the leadership void left by Shalrie's departure, for one. For another, they need to tighten up the defense. McCarthy and Soares have been good at times, but at other times they play like the second-year players they really are. A veteran presence in that back line could work wonders. Also, the team needs consistency. I'm not sure if that's coming from coaching or personnel, but the squad needs to work on playing 100% and firing on all cylinders at all times. When the Revs put it together this year, they played like a postseason-caliber team. More often than not, though, miscommunication and mistakes undermined their ability to succeed. That has to end.
On a side note, Jay Heaps really needs to figure out what's going on with Benny Feilhaber
and solve it. Benny's stats this year (1 goal and 2 assists in 25 games) is totally unacceptable, and now it seems like he's on his way out. His playing time is dwindling, his attitude appears to suck, and the Revs aren't getting the best out of him. If Benny has to go, then let him go. I can't see any way that his apparently-bad attitude is helping this team. Ideally, though, Jay and Benny will hash out whatever's going on this offseason, because if Jay can get Feilhaber on board and playing well, it will make a world of difference to this team.Many thanks to Steve for some quality insight ahead of Saturday's match. I have a feeling that plenty of Red Bull fans can relate to the "punched in the gut" feeling - maybe these teams have more in common than we thought!