By Kevin Koczwara
The New England Revolution were unable to take advantage of a depleted New York Red Bulls team today and loss, 1-0, at Red Bull Arena. New York capitalized in the 7th minute when Thierry Henry scored a magnificant chip from outside the area, beating a stretched Stephen McCarthy to the ball. The Red Bulls held on to the lead for the remainder of the game despite losing Henry to a hamstring injury in the 23rd minute and relentless pressure from the Revolution.
Some thoughts on the game…
1.) Benny Feilhaber needs to earn his spot, still.
It may have been a shock to some to see a healthy Benny Feilhaber out of the Revolution’s starting XI, but the American international needs to earn his spot back. Kelyn Rowe and Lee Nguyen have been playing well in their attacking roles, why would coach Jay Heaps shake that up just to fit Feilhaber in? Players need to get their spots back, especially when they haven’t lived up to the hype or expectations, which Feilhaber hasn’t.
Against New York, Feilhaber had a few moments, but for the most part his performance was underwhelming. He needs to focus on his game and keep it simple. What made him tick for the National team was his passing and movement. Time and again for New England, Feilhaber tries to do too much with the ball and dribble past defenders. There was a moment in the second half where he could have passed the ball either out wide to Saer Sene or laid it off to another midfielder and created space. Instead, Feilhaber tried to dribble through the Red Bull defense and Dax McCarthy dispossessed him easily.
There were moments for Feilhaber, but he still hasn’t put it all together for one performance. When he does, then he will deserve his starting spot back.
2.) Kenny Cooper and the New York Red Bulls need Thierry Henry.
When Henry went down with an injury, New York was pressing New England relentlessly. The Red Bulls had all of the ball and New England was turningit over with every pass it seemed. Cooper and Henry were doing their usual stuff: creating chances and playing off of each other. The game looked like it might be a blow out.
Then Henry went down and New York, which didn’t even field a full bench due to injuries, ejected from the driver’s seat. New England took over with good pressure and sustained ball possession. Kenny Cooper looked alone, lost and was ineffective save for a few good runs for the rest of the match.
Henry is the player who gets New York going. He’s the main man. He’s what separates New York from the average teams. We all know he’s special, but it became more evident just how important he is to New York in the second half as the Revs pressed for an equalizer.
3.) Two forwards may not be the answer for New England.
When the Revolution shocked the Los Angeles Galaxy its midfield dominated the game and created the up-and-down tempo. New England played a rough 4-2-3-1 with Saer Sene as the lone forward, and Ryan Guy, Nguyen, and Kelyn Rowe playing behind him. Sene tended to drop deep into the midfield and corresponding midfielders made runs in behind him. The three midfielder switched positions regularly. Los Angeles couldn’t handle all the movement.
Against New York, Heaps went for a modified 4-2-2-2, with Sene playing alongside Jose Moreno, and Nguyen and Rowe playing in the attacking midfield roles. Chances were slim and the off-the-ball movement was poor.
Players routinely passed or sent long balls from the back to no one in particular because outlets weren’t readily available. Sene seemed to be the only player showing to the ball and moving around, confusing defenders. everyone seemed to be standing still waiting for someone else to dribble through four players. It was a mess.
Heaps may want to re-think the two forward strategy. He has plenty of players who can play in the hole behind the forward, notably Rowe, Nguyen, Feilhaber and Guy, who showed he has more than what it takes against the Galaxy. With Sene’s movement and an attacking three behind him, New England is virtually impossible to mark and quick going forward. It’s a dynamic not seen much in Major League Soccer, and should be explored more. If Heaps wants, he can add in Moreno to hold up play and have runners come off of him.
Formations and partnerships is something for Heaps to explore, especially with such a congested schedule in the coming weeks. But against a team like New York, one that defends and marks poorly, it is a mistake not to take advantage of the numbers in the midfield and good off the ball movement.
4.) New England is going to go for it.
For the past few seasons the Revs have played for a point. Rarely did former coach Steve Nicol throw caution out the window and shift things up late to push for a game-winner or an equalizer. He rarely did it at home. And he almost never did it on the road.
Heaps is different. He wants three points. He wants it all. And he proved it again against New York when he brought on extra attackers and shifted from a back-four to three. That’s important in a league where teams are seperated by the slimmest of margins. A slight change late in a game can get you that needed goal, and those needed points come playoff time.
Kevin Koczwara can be reached at email@example.com.