There are homecomings, and there are homecomings.
James Riley only spent three seasons in New England, but his homecoming last Saturday was a special one. No, it wasn’t special for him, but for the Revolution, which saw Riley deliver the own-goal of the season to help San Jose continue its recent slide.
The Revs will take what it can get after suffering two straight home shutout losses. Any win is golden in the rugged Eastern Conference, particularly when New England is still waiting to have Taylor Twellman back and fully healthy.
SBI Correspondents Andrew Karl and Kevin Matthiessen took in the action last Saturday and shared their thoughts with us:
An easy, but expected win helps Revs get going
by ANDREW KARL
Saturday night’s Revolution win over San Jose was, simply put, a dominating performance over a less talented team. New England was able to control possession and impose its collective will over the Earthquakes, who struggled to create chances as well as defend against them for much of the night. More than three points were earned, as the Revs capitalized on more than just their feeble opponent. The team took advantage of a great turnout with quality soccer that truly entertained.
The Revolution dominated possession throughout the first half, showing stretches of a rhythmic and flowing passing game. The smart play and sharp passing by the midfield combinations of Jeff Larentowicz, Shalrie Joseph, Steve Ralston, and Mauricio Castro were something to behold. The midfield worked well to hold the ball, push forward, and switch the attack. At times, the chains of possession punctuated by one-touch passing were nothing short of the beautiful game. Besides the midfield display, forwards Kenny Mansally and Kheli Dube worked tirelessly and the back line kept mistakes to a minimum.
The goals came quick on the warm spring night. Kheli Dube knocked home a clever flick from 5 yards out by Shalrie Joseph and James Riley headed away an own-goal in his first appearance in Gillette Stadium since joining San Jose. But after half time, the Revolution seemed to loose a bit of their edge and couldn’t establish the same amount of possession. New England’s saving grace in the second half came with the introduction of Sainey Nyassi.
The young Gambia saw about 30 minutes against San Jose, his first appearance since picking up an injury against New York four weeks ago. Nyassi immediately reminded the crowd of his quality, successfully running at defenders nearly every time he touched the ball. Not only was he an effective impact sub, sparking the attack back to life, he hustled on the defensive end as well. While Wells Thompson put in a solid performance at the same possession in the first half, Nyassi’s brought a different brand of soccer – an aggressive, confident attacking style.
I brought a cousin of mine to this game, his first Revs game. He is the latest member of my friends and family that I’m trying to convert to a Revolution fan. I’m sure many of you out there have done this: brought a friend, possibly a casual fan of the international or English game, out to a game in the hopes of hooking him to our domestic league…like a soccer missionary or a futbol conquistador. It’s a quest to convert the entire world to the beautiful game really, and some of my key victories include my brother, another cousin, and several friends.
One of the first things my cousin wanted to know when we met in the stadium parking lot was who on the team he should look out for. Specifically he wanted a heads up on which Revs players he could see show off dribbling skill and the like. My answer was Nyassi, who ended up spending a half hour strafing down the right flank, handing out step-overs and streaking by defenders right in front of our seats. An impression was made and the performances on display Saturday night may have provided me with another small victory in the great quest for soccer dominance.
There were more casual fans in the stands than the one I brought though. This match definitely had the best turnout of the season, probably due in some part to the perfect weather. Just before kickoff, when I looked around and saw the size of the crowd, I could only hope that the team would put on a show, really entertain the fans, and turn some of the casuals to devoted fans. The league is growing in both on-field product and popularity, it’s no secret, and the Revolution must grow with it. Saturday night was an opportunity to impress a large audience and grow the fan base, a chance the team took well, making an impression on the crowd and my cousin. The truth is that at this point, in this league and in this country’s sports landscape, clubs have to do more than win – they have to do it in entertaining fashion. Saturday night was a step in the right direction.
Riley’s gift keeps Earthquakes reeling
By KEVIN MATTHIESSEN
On Saturday night, The San Jose Earthquakes visited the home of perennial also-rans, The New England Revolution. Like good guests they came baring gifts- two to be exact. The first gift was in the form of sloppy play and poor marking which led to the Revolution’s first goal. The second was a perfectly wrapped present gifted to them by former Rev James Riley and Joe Cannon.
For the entire first half, the comatose Earthquakes wandered about the plastic field turf pitch aimlessly. Aside from some hustle and good back passes (?) shown by Joe Vide their performance was entirely forgettable. But there were two plays from that first half stands out in my head that made me want to turn the TV off. The Earthquakes had the ball deep in New England territory. Ronnie O’Brien was showing for the ball but Grabavoy slipped it past him to a streaking winger. O’Brien decided to take a break from the action and throw a little fit.
There’s one thing I can’t stand, and that’s a player stopping and throwing his arms up because of a teammate’s mistake or poor pass. Funny thing too is that this particular time it was neither. O’Brien probably didn’t even know that his teammate was streaking wide right behind him. Ironically, O’Brien got the ball back and almost immediately proceeded to give the ball away to the defense with a weak and lazy juke move.
And for the "Special of the day", James Riley and Joe Cannon served us up a steaming bowl of "ineptitude du jour". Haven’t heard of that? What goes into a steaming bowl of "ineptitude du jour" you ask? Well, we start with a half a cup of minced judgment, throw in a dollop of bad communication, sprinkle in some poor communication, and top it off with a steaming fresh scoop of hot and runny dog pile.
So there you have it, sure thing "Player of the Weak" winner for MLS week 8, James Riley headed the ball perfectly over the onrushing Joe Cannon, and into the back of the net.
Players have to communicate back there. Never pass it back to the keeper goal-ward, header or otherwise. When in doubt, kick it (or head it) out. These were all thoughts rushing through my head as the ball slowly bounced toward the head of James Riley. I’m wondering what Riley was thinking at that moment. "I sure look good in these baby blue shorts", or maybe "my hair’s getting good in the back"?
James Riley isn’t entirely to blame. Joe Cannon should take some credit. Was he directing Riley what to do? I don’t think so. Was he putting himself in a good position. Could it have been any worse? I’m really starting to wonder what’s going on with Cannon since he left Colorado. He wasn’t very good for the Galaxy last year and this year he’s had a howler in almost every game. I hope whatever it is that gets Joe Cannon’s mind focused on the game returns and we can see the Joe Cannon of yesteryear that strikers feared.
I don’t like to point out problems without providing some solutions. Here’s what I suggest: Ryan Johnson, Shea Salinas, and Joe Vide played well. These guys have the quickness and determination to be successful in MLS and should be starters. Continue to feature Jason Hernandez, Ryan Cochrane, and Eric Denton on the backline. Find a replacement for Riley and play either Grabavoy or Corrales in the A-Mid.
So for Quakes fans, hope’s not lost. It just needs some adjustment, reconfiguring, and maybe a reboot. Unfortunately 6 of the next 8 games are on the road. With more games like Saturday’s though, keep those hopes low and be mentally prepared for the worst. The worst would certainly be 1-13-1.