Featured / Union

Preview: Union at Revolution

Photo: Daniel Gajdamowicz

What: Union at New England Revolution

When: 7:30pm EST

Where: Gillette Stadium

Watch: CSN

Read: MLS Gameday (PDF)

Referee: Drew Fischer. AR1 (bench): Daniel Belleau; AR2 (opposite): Philippe Briere; 4th: Geoff Gamble
MLS Career: 3 games; FC/gm: 27.0; Y/gm: 2.3; R: 0; pens: 0

Considering how bad they were a year ago, the New England Revolution cannot be too disappointed in their 2012 campaign. Defensive miscues and an inconsistent offense (built around one of America’s most inconsistent midfielders, surprise-surprise) have kept the Revs from making anything like a playoff push, but building around five offensive stars not named Feilhaber bodes well for the future.

Bengston, Sene, Nguyen, Rowe and Guy. Five names New Englanders will hope to see back next season. For the rest of this year, however, head coach Jay Heaps needs to figure out how to organize a midfield and force a young, talented back line to take a big step forward.

An audition?

In fact, Heaps may see Brian Carroll’s trip north as an ideal chance to scout the Union’s midfield general. The Revs need somebody who can shield the back four more effectively than Clyde Simms and Carroll is something of a zen master of midfield sweeping. Amobi Okugo will be in the midfield in 2013, and while the Union would be loathe to lose Carroll, New England has a few pieces Philly would have to consider at if a deal was available.

Ending the Gavilan experiment

Moving Gabriel Gomez into the front three was a bold move by John Hackworth. Bold and, ultimately, ineffective.

If Gomez was supposed to add distribution and toughness to the lineup, he failed to deliver. If he was supposed to make Freddy Adu look active by comparison: Resounding success.

The most troubling aspect of Gomez’s game has been his positioning, which has ranged from confusing to inappropriate. In taking the space directly behind Jack McInerney, Gomez often closed off any vertical movement the striker could make, forcing him to play closer to the big defenders who make the Union’s aerial game as useful as an indoor kite.

Adding a player of Gomez’s on-ball skill to the lineup should lead to more possession and fewer forced forward passes. It has not. But the move shows that John Hackworth is aware of the problem and seeking solutions. That he turned to Gavilan as the answer two matches in a row, however, shows that he doesn’t think he has any good ones.

Hoffmania?

Chandler Hoffman is not the face of possession soccer. Like McInerney, The Hoff is going to put in the work and make the runs that either create space or put him in position to get involved should the Union accidentally send a ball into the box with some semblance of purpose.

That said, when a team has scored seven road goals all season—and 25 in 24 total games—developing a partnership for the future becomes priority.

Will that partnership be McInerney-Hoffman? Not likely. The Union have little choice but to recruit at least one veteran, proven goal scorer before next season. What is clear now is that the Union’s 4-3-3 has been found out and that their first round draft pick deserves a chance to show where he falls on the depth chart. McInerney got his when Hackworth took over. Now it’s Hoffman’s turn.

Playing with purpose

With so many small, quick players on the roster, it’s a wonder that the Union manage to become so isolated in the middle third. How often did Danny Cruz receive the ball, look up, take a dribble, look up again, turn back, look again, and make a negative or overly ambitious pass on Wednesday? Too many times. A possession offense requires triangles and quick passes that move the defense around. Playing with two holding midfielders demands that the front four are in constant motion, checking in, out and forcing the opponent’s creative midfielders to track runs and fall back into defensive positions.

This is how a young, energetic team should play. Hackworth wants this style, but instead of seeing it come to fruition, he spends every post-match presser discussing how the team worked hard but didn’t get a result. What he means is that the team moved without purpose. Whatever master plan was in place fell to shambles. Again.

Losing the middle

Against DC and Columbus, the Union spent significant time controlling the middle third of the field, only to lose it completely during the final half hour. Is it a fitness issue? Is it a matter of the other team finding holes and being more patient? It’s hard to tell. But it’s a pattern that spells disaster.

How can the Union address this against New England? By identifying the dangerous pockets in the midfield that demand fast pressure and understanding that those are the areas Brian Carroll should be sprinting over to pressure. When Carroll steps up to press near the halfway line, it leaves a huge gap between the midfield and defense, and teams have discovered that sending one winger slightly inside opens up enough space to play two or three passes and get into the final third with numbers. Addressing and countering this trend is key to the Union’s quest to control the ball.

No more playoff push

This match is about finding something that works for the Union. They made their play for the postseason, and now have to admit defeat and turn the focus to next year. Giving up on the playoffs doesn’t mean the season is useless. It’s time to lay down a marker on 2013. The Union will have a talented squad that should be reinforced with some depth signings. They have Amobi Okugo ready to step into the midfield, Bakary Soumare ready to join the back line, Raymon Gaddis pushing for more playing time, and Michael Farfan growing into a central role that could make him a star.

What they don’t have is the belief that they can dictate a game. Forced passes, hopeful lobs over the back four, and ambitious balls trying to split the defense point to a team that thinks they need to do something extremely special to score. They don’t. They just need to do what good teams do. Keep the ball, move it around, don’t settle for a cross when the real point of having possession is wearing down a defense to the point that an inch-perfect pass isn’t necessary to create a chance.

Learning these things starts now. The playoff pressure is off. All that’s left is for this team to show that it can play it’s own brand of soccer against anybody, anywhere, any time.

It starts with figuring out what that brand is and owning it.

Lineups

Union

  • GK: MacMath
  • DEF: Gaddis, Williams, Okugo, Garfan
  • MID: Carroll, Adu, Marfan
  • FWD: Cruz, McInerney, Hoffman

Revolution

  • GK: Reis
  • DEF: Alston, McCarthy, Tierney, Soares
  • MID: Rowe, Simms, Guy, Nguyen
  • FWD: Bengston, Sene
Injuries

Union

  • OUT: FW Krystian Witkowski (concussion symptoms);
  • PROBABLE: DF Carlos Valdes (L groin strain); DF Chris Albright (L groin strain); DF Bakary Soumare (R knee inflammation)

Revolution

  • OUT: MF Sainey Nyassi (R adductor strain); FW Saer Sene (L knee sprain); GK Bobby Shuttleworth (L knee sprain);
  • DOUBTFUL: MF Blair Gavin (L disc irritation);
  • PROBABLE: DF A.J. Soares (whiplash)
Disciplinary Situation
  • SUSPENDED: none
  • WARNINGS (suspended next yellow card): PHI: Gabriel Gomez, Gabriel Farfan, Michael Farfan

 

 

5 Comments

  1. Philly Cheese says:

    Good review. Hope Hack is listening. Only reason I can think Gomez makes 11 in NE is to prove he has to go. Not sure we will see recommended Cruz, Jack Mac and Hoffman until we are closer to year end and decisions on who is not coming back have been made. GA status didn’t help Okugo or Jack Mac get playing minutes. Maybe time to evaluate if GA rules are keeping young players like Hoffman from getting minutes.

  2. Josh Kensington U says:

    Such a strange year for Gomez- the first four games he was the only bright light. Anybody have some analysis of how a leader with a taste for goal and ball-winning and distribution ended up such a disappointment?

  3. James Korman says:

    Good article. The lineup you project is so small in stature that it’s scary. The injury report states that Soumare has ‘knee inflammation’ is that new info? Last I heard Hack said the team will be conservative with him. What’s the deal here? In the absence of Capt. Carlos It would seem the ideal time to play him.

    ????

    • I just hope for once we look like a team that realizes that and plays on the ground. Another game pumping long balls and static movement wont look good for Hackworths tactical abilities.

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