By Cory Ritzau of Prost America
Before I get ahead of myself let me offer two simple words: 90 minutes. That’s all we got to see Sunday night.
As the prognosticators are out in full force offering the full implications of Sunday’s draw and what it means for the rest of the season, let’s take a step back and do something that usually doesn’t play well on blogs and message boards: remind ourselves that it was only 90 minutes. Not to mention 90 minutes in a torrential downpour with 25mph winds 3,000 miles from home.
Only time will tell if Sunday’s contest becomes a piece of a larger trend or if the conditions made it such that those 90 minutes will be seen more as an aberration as the season progresses. At first thought I tend to think it’s more the latter than the former.
But in examining New England Revolution’s opening match, there are a few early tendencies that I think will become part of their larger identity moving forward.
First and foremost, the Revs played with an edge of physicality, especially through the midfield, that never allowed the Galaxy to get their short passing game in sync during the second half. The Revs committed numerous fouls (14 compared to the Galaxy’s 6), the bulk of them of the professional variety, and were able to stay out of the book as Referee Grijelda seemed especially patient to reach for his front pocket.
The central midfield trio of Shalrie Joseph, Stephen McCarthy, and Pat Phelan look to be particularly feisty, and while their possession skills appear to be several steps behind at this point, their tenacity can protect a green center back pairing, allowing them time to develop on the job. Well, that and the return to health of Ousmane Dabo.
The Revs also showed some aerial prowess throughout the game. They got their goal early on from a nice Joseph header, but it was on the defensive end that impressed the most.
Dealing with Beckham’s sharp crosses are no small feat, especially in the monsoon-like conditions, but when you consider the fact that OptaJack totaled his crosses at 27 for the game, the aerial defense seems especially impressive. The only lapse seemed to be a first half Landon Donovan header over Darius Barnes that Ries did well to get in front of.
Centerbacks Soares and Coria seemed to keep good spacing, while holding a nice high line for much of the night. Galaxy starting forwards Chad Barrett and Mike Magee aren’t exactly the league’s most dangerous aerial tandem, but each were closely marked as they tried to find open space entering the box. If Ries can direct traffic and provide helpful organization there’s no reason to think that aerial defense can’t become a point of strength this season.
Of course there are less than flattering tendencies that were evident as well. Coach Steve Nicol’s 4-5-1 looks great for defensive-minded shape and pressure but the counter attack was shoddy at best. Except for Schilawski’s ‘rabbit out of a hat’ magic trick to earn a corner in the opening minutes, the Revs could never seem to capitalize on Galaxy turnovers through the midfield and could only muster one maybe two players getting forward in support of Schilawski or Mansally.
When turning over the Galaxy, the Revs could only string together a small handful of passes before being forced to knock a long ball that was easily collected by the Galaxy backline. It may have been an issue of fitness, but it seemed more than that.
Unless the team can figure out how to transition out of a defensive formation to either a creative counter attack or possession minded shape where it can string together a series passes working the ball forward, the Revs may be in for long summer. If Dabo can provide an active presence next to Joseph, Nicol may even want to consider a shifting out of the 4-5-1 to provide another target man that can hold possession thus affording the midfield more time to get into attacking positions. This may in fact be more dependant on the quality of the opponent rather than Nicol’s preference or the Revs inability to dictate play against the league elites.
But again, 90 minutes against a league’s top team in a virtual monsoon may mean little in the grand scheme of things. Time will tell.
Cory Ritzau is the Los Angeles correspondent for Prost America. He covered the New England Revolution v Los Angeles Galaxy game for The Soccer Guys.