Who can figure out the New England Revolution?
The Revs have been one of the strongest teams in MLS all season, but for some reason when they play at Gillette Stadium they have been prone to flat performances. Such a showing came yet again on Thursday, as an inspired and gritty Red Bulls team nearly pulled a rare win at Gillette before settling for a well-earned draw.
The result gave the Red Bulls some confidence heading into a tough stretch of games while also preventing New England from pulling away in the Eastern Conference. At this rate if the Revs have home-field in the playoffs they might want to consider opting to play on the road.
SBI correspondents Andrew Karl and Andrew Keh watched the action on Wednesday night and gave us their takes on the action:
Tie not good enough for these Revs
By ANDREW KARL
You think I’d be happy with a dramatic comeback to earn a draw, but the truth is I’m far from it. When Steve Ralston netted for the home side to earn the Revolution a point against the New York Red Bulls, I was more relieved than jubilant. Relieved that the Revolution attack was finally able to break down a suspect Red Bull defense. It was a night where New England’s defense struggled and not until the second half was the Revolution able to challenge the New York back-line.
When Seth Stammler scored to put the visitors ahead, Mauricio Castro was clutching his back on the ground 70 yards away. While many fans in attendance found the opposing teams decision to play on disrespectful and unsportsmanlike. Both are apt descriptions of the play but I have to think that a RB goal in the first half would have happened regardless of Castro’s inclusion in the play. The New England defense was as porous as a sieve and, it has to be said, lucky not to have gone into halftime down by two goals. Matt Reis can’t stand on his head every single night, and without him Chris Albright, Michael Parkhust, and Jay Heaps would be guilty of leaking many more goals than they have already. Parkhurst simply doesn’t look like his old self; the diminutive center back seems hesitant to step up and challenge attackers, reluctant to spring forward and cut off the final pass. Could this be a lack of confidence in his fellow defenders? Would you trust Jay Heaps to lock down the left side of your defense? He’s got ups like Woody Harrelson but I wouldn’t even trust him to lock my car in the Gillette Stadium parking lot during Venezuela-Brazil.
My old college roommate and co-season ticket holder Kevin suggested that we send a paper airplane Steve Nicol’s way. Our seats are close enough to do so and the paper, when unfolded, would simply read "FOUR IN THE BACK." We’re both in agreement that the three man backline is simply not good enough these days. Could this be due to the absence of free-tackling Avery John in the lineup? Or has the quality of attacking soccer in this league increased to the point where three defenders alone can’t handle the pressure? The latter can’t be true, as the striker partnership of Dane Richards and Oscar Etcheverry isn’t exactly a shining example of a potent attack. Whatever the reason, the Revolution have fared better when playing with four defenders and with solid options like Rob Valentino, Chase Hilgenbrink, and Amaechi Igwe growing mold on the bench, concerned fans like us wonder if Nicol has taken notice. To be honest though, I’m not throwing anything at Steve Nicol, even if it’s only made of paper.
It’s safe to say that at each Revolution game some choice expletives aimed at the referee escape my mouth. Not always eloquent or clever, and often offensive to the soccer moms around me, not a game goes by where I can’t find something to loathe the officials for. In most cases though, I’ve forgotten about the calls that didn’t go New England’s way shortly after the final whistle. But when I’m driving to work the morning following a game and still muttering under my breath about how the ref hosed the Revs, I know it was truly atrocious officiating. Thursday morning, sitting in the daily traffic surrounding the junction between I-90 and I-95, I was still thinking about Joe Caroccio’s suspect decisions.
More than I’m upset about a few specific calls by the referee, I’m perplexed by the way Caroccio allowed the Red Bulls to dominate the game with chippy, professional fouls. New York, depleted by injuries and resting some players for Saturday’s match against Dallas, seemed to go into this game looking to disrupt the Revolution’s passing game with frequent fouling. Even more insidious was the way the referee allowed this to trend to dominate the game. A professional foul, where a defending player deliberately fouls an opponent simply to stop their attacking progress, deserves a yellow card. If the rule isn’t enforced as it should, players can afford more and more cynical play like this. Referee Caroccio had plenty of chances to hand out cards early in the game and stop this type of play but declined to go to his pocket. What resulted was an infuriating 90 minutes of hoarsing my voice against the man in yellow.
While some may be satisfied with a hard earned point, especially one earned in such dramatic fashion, I am most definitely not. Against a depleted Red Bull squad, a squad that matches up inferior to the Revolution in so many positions, I wanted a win. I wouldn’t share a bucket of popcorn with a New York fan at a showing of Victory and I don’t like sharing points with them either. Looking ahead, I’m sure that RSL fans will feel the same on Saturday as they hope to down the Revs on their home floor (that concrete rug at Rice-Eccles is not a pitch). But I wonder if any of them will share a caffeinated soda with me.
Red Bulls fight for a well-earned point at Gillette
By ANDREW KEH
As the boss said before the game in the introduction to his running commentary, “This is MLS, where good teams always find a way to drop inexplicable results against struggling teams.”
How, then, should one explain Major League Soccer’s most recent inexplicable result?
In this column, I’ve previously taken Juan Carlos Osorio to task for what I’ve perceived to be an unnecessary level of tinkering in his weekly team selection. Multiple times this season, the Colombian made changes to formulas that seemed to have worked in the week prior, and he has generally paid the cost.
This week, however, it was clear that wholesale changes to the team involved in Saturday’s fiasco in D.C. were imperative. Add to that the Red Bulls’ injury list, which includes designated players Juan Pablo Angel and Claudio Reyna—the captain of the team—and the manner in which Osorio managed Wednesday night’s result is all the more impressive.
The Red Bulls performance won’t challenge the Netherlands’ Euro 2008 run for prettiest soccer on TV. But they had a game plan, and they executed it. With a glaring dearth of offensive ammunition, Osorio patched together a defensive-minded lineup built to frustrate the opposition, and the team in turn earned a point in a stadium in which they have an atrocious history.
The centerpiece of this search-and-destroy lineup was Seth Stammler. By now, my admiration for the midfielder is plain, and whether it is in sincerity or jest, his name often finds a way into this column. Perhaps this is because unless he scores a goal, he generally does not earn mention in most recaps. And, for the most part, he does not score goals.
This week, Stammler happened to score the Red Bulls’ lone goal on a one-time volley off a Dave van den Bergh cross—he made the game recaps for that. But more importantly, he did what he has always done when healthy this season. He ran himself ragged around the field, making tough tackles from sideline to sideline.
The man, simply put, is a terrier.
When I was a kid, I had a West Highland White Terrier called Sidney, who could chase balls around my backyard for hours. Stammler is like Sidney. That is a compliment.
Compliments must also be directed to Jon Conway, who made some huge saves in the match, including a match-saving double reflex stop in the games’ dying minutes.
The big man is quietly having a very good season. To my memory, he has not suffered any major mental blunders this season—the downfall of many fine goalkeepers—and his decision-making and positioning have improved. Despite his cannon of an arm, Conway’s distribution, especially with his feet, is and will probably always somewhat shaky. But he has more than made up for it thus far this year by fulfilling some of the goalkeeping potential of his size and athleticism.
Still to come: a full analysis of this week’s Bud Light commercials.