By Kevin Koczwara
The New England Revolution has lost four of the last five games, but the team continues to show light and impress the eye despite not getting the deserved results. An impressive mid-week win over the Colorado Rapids set the stage for a highly anticipated match at Rio Tinto Stadium in Salt Lake City with Western Conference powerhouse Real Salt Lake. The Revolution took the lead but ended up falling to RSL, 2-1. The game was an open affair, the kind of game New England will have the upper-hand on for the most part with its talented midfield.
Here are five things to take away from the busy week/weekend.
1. Stephen McCarthy is making strides
Stephen MacCarthy came into Major League Soccer last year from the University of North Carolina. The former Tar Heel was selected by the New England Revolution in the second round of the SuperDraft to operate as a deep-lying midfielder, protecting the back four. It didn’t work out that well for McCarthy. He was overwhelmed with the speed of the midfield and didn’t win enough balls back or distribute particularly well. But there was plenty of upside to his game.
McCarthy reads the game well, wins headers, and is a good listener. New Coach jay Heaps saw that and decided to try McCarthy at center back.
The experiment has finally taken shape. McCarthy still struggles with communicating, but he and A.J. Soares — drafted in the first round of the same draft as McCarthy — have a great working relationship. And, despite being beat on more than on occasion, their partnership is blossoming into something Revs fans can get excited about.
2. I’m sticking by my “A.J. Soares will make the USMNT ” pick earlier this year
Soares use to be an attacking midfielder. He was your prototypical No.10 growing up. In his freshman year at Cal, Soares’ coach asked him to step in at center back. He hasn’t looked back since.
In his second year, Soares is a stand out defender. He’s a ball winner. He has taken on a leadership role on the field. And he can distribute. It’s not often seen in the hustle and bustle of MLS, but Soares is confident on the ball, and that’s what Jurgen Klinsmann is looking for.
If Soares can keep progressing like he has — he’s made a good leap from a rookie of the year candidate to borderline MLS Best XI — Klinsmann will come calling.
Against Colorado, Soares smothered clearances, shut down counter-attacks and snuffed out balls in behind the defense. He’s the last line of defense, and he’s doing it at a top-level right now.
3. Clyde Simms needs help
Signing Clyde Simms in the re-entry draft was a shrewd and calculated move by Mike Burns and Jay Heaps. The former D.C. United midfielder is the kind of anchor in the midfield the Revolution have been missing since Jeff Larentowicz was traded. But he can’t do it alone.
Shalrie Joseph has shown a tendency to roam forward and leave Simms as the lone man in front of a young and inexperienced defense. Heaps needs to find a way to settle someone next to Simms to help the midfielder clean up. The Revs are leaving a lot of holes in the midfield and they’re being exposed. A four man push should be enough with Joseph ghosting into the box, but it’s too much to ask Simms to sit in the hole alone.
4. Saer Sene is special
Sene has the ability to be a 15-plus goalscorer in MLS. He also has the potential to have the worst hair in MLS, Fredy Montero is battling it with him right now with some sort of Conan the Barbarian haircut. Sene came to the Revolution as a virtual unknown,and he’s turned out to be the kind of player the Revolution have been missing for years. He’s tricky. He has good off the ball movement. He wants the ball. And he has an eye for goal.
I just can’t wait to see what he does with that mohawk.
5. Revs need to get positive results on the road
Rio Tinto Stadium is a tough place for anyone to play. But New England had a great chance to get an important point. The Revolution took the lead in the 22nd minute through a great strike from Blake Brettshneider. RSL leveled in the 33rd minute and then took the lead in the 54th minute. New England should have, and needed to, held on for a point. Even after Salt Lake scored the go ahead goal the Revs should have been able to capitalize on chances, especially after Will Johnson was sent off in the 59th minute for a tackle on Clyde Simms.
Those are the opportunities New England needs to seize on the road to make the playoffs. There are still plenty of games to play, but missing out on a surprise point on the road hurts when the opportunity is there. New England needs to do better.