By Kevin Koczwara
The New England Revolution opened the season with two games on the road and two losses. It’s not the kind of beginning Jay Heaps hoped for when he took the job as the team’s coach.
Looking back, a loss at San Jose to open the season seems unfair. The most unlikely of players, Shalrie Joseph, turned the ball over for the Revolution in the midfield and the Quakes burst through the Revolution defense. Chris Wondolowski, Major League Soccer’s Golden Boot winner the last two seasons, slotted home his chance. New England had its own chances, but failed to convert.
Last weekend’s game at Sporting Kansas City turned ugly when Stephen McCarthy was sent off for wrestling with C.J. Sapong in the 14th minute. McCarthy was deemed the last defender and, according to the letter of the law, he apparently stopped Sapong from a clear scoring chance. It was unfair for a second-year player, who just converted to center back. It was a two-way tussle and a no-call most of the time. Those kinds of battles happen all over the field and ignored. At the very most, McCarthy deserved a yellow card and Kansas City deserved a free-kick.
New England lost the game, 3-0, to Sporting. It had no chance after McCarthy was sent off. Kansas City is the top team in the Eastern Conference this year and came into the game full of confidence.
McCarthy’s red card put New England in a tough spot against Kansas City and for the next few weeks as he serves his suspension. A.J. Soares was the only other healthy center back for the match against Sporting, and it looks like he will be the only available center defender tonight against the Portland Timbers, which spells trouble against a team that likes to get forward and try and score goals.
Here’s a few talking points ahead of tonight’s game…
Can a three man defense stop Portland’s wing play?
The Timbers have good wing players, whether it be Darlington Nagbe moving out wide and adding some creativity and ball skill or Kalif Alhassa running at defenders with his pace. With only one central defender available, New England might have to go to a three man backline, which means whoever plays in the wide midfield positions will have a lot of work to do tracking back. Heaps will need to find a way to counter-attack Portland’s ability to get up and down the outside by putting players he trusts out wide. This may be the game where Lee Nguye or Ryan Guy get the start and get a chance to show what they have and that they deserve a regular spot.
Is Kelyn Rowe ready to play in the center of the midfield?
Benny Feilhaber is out with a peroneal strain, which means the creativity in the midfield will need to come from Rowe. The rookie from UCLA has spent most of his time with the Revs operating on the wings, but he has said he likes playing as a traditional No.10 in the center of the field. Tonight is his time to show what he has.
Portland has hard workers in the center of its midfield with plenty of experience, so it will be up to Rowe to find time and space between Jack Jewsbury, Diego Chara and the the Timbers backline. If Rowe can exploit space, get on the ball and distribute wisely, New England can control the tempo of the game and create scoring chances.
Mark Kris Boyd
Portland knew it was getting a proven goalscorer when it signed Boyd. Heck, everyone knew the Timbers were getting someone who would and could excel in MLS and score goals when they signed the former Rangers player and all-time leading goalscorer in the Scottish Premier League’s history. Heaps wii need to make sure his backline keeps its eyes Boyd. Like Wondolowski a few weeks ago, if Boyd finds any space inside the box, he will score. There is no doubting he will finish his chances. So, it’s imperative Soares and the other defenders find the tricky forward.
Kevin Koczwara can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.