Why the Revs are a mess, and how they hope they can save their season
The New England Revolution has gone six hours without scoring and six MLS games without a win. Although nine players from the 2014 MLS Cup Final squad played ins Sunday’s 1-0 loss to the New York Red Bulls, New England is now 5 points out of a playoff spot with eight games remaining.
Using Stats Zone, we will look at why the Revs have been both unable to stop teams from scoring and unable to find a goal for themselves despite adding Kei Kamara midseason. Head coach Jay Heaps gave Kamara a partner to work with against the Red Bulls and though the drought continues, both coach and player believe they may have found a possible solution. Whether they’re right or not may decide if they remain with the Revolution -- and if there is any hope for the Revs to save their season.
New England has already allowed 47 goals in 2016, as many goals as it conceded all last season. The Revs allowed 46 goals the year they made their playoff run with the same defensive corp, except for A.J. Soares, whose absence looms larger every time an opponent scores. Soares left the club for Europe when his contract expired and New England never found a replacement.
Heaps previously thought moving Andrew Farrell inside from right back -- to partner with Jose Gonçalves -- would be a solution, but it wound up limiting Farrell’s attacking abilities while rendering the entire unit incapable of defending crosses. Heaps soon reversed course, moving Farrell back out wide and opting for London Woodberry or Je-Vaughn Watson at center back. Neither of them could prevent the Revolution from allowing four goals in losses to Toronto on August 6 (4-1) and Philadelphia on August 13 (4-0).
Incomplete D-mids; incohesive attack
Jermaine Jones’ departure just prior to the season simply revealed what had been lurking underneath. Had Xavier Kouassi not suffered his injury, the Revolution may have been able to make due like last season. But this season and this winless streak continue to show that the Revolution cannot win the ball back after being dispossessed. Scott Caldwell and Gershon Koffie can hold serve in midfield, but neither have the strength nor positional sense to destroy opposing attacks before they enter the area.
After Sunday’s match, Heaps said he sometimes makes changes for the sake of it. And while doing that after a defeat can lead to a turnaround, it’s far from guaranteed. Such is the case with trading for Kei Kamara. Kamara fell out with one playmaker and is now struggling to develop chemistry with another. Similar to Federico Higuain in Columbus, Lee Nguyen creates chances with his individual skill and penetrating passes for teammates to run onto and finish. That’s how Kelyn Rowe and Diego Fagundez previously thrived, but each player only has three goals in 2016.
Will tactical changes work?
The Revs have only one win against the East’s top-six. To join them, Heaps is tweaking the 4-2-3-1 to a 4-1-3-2. New England was on the back foot for most of Sunday’s match, and although the Red Bulls scored by pouncing on a giveaway, they had ample opportunities to score. Kamara worked with Teal Bunbury up front and while Kamara said he enjoyed not being double-teamed, he couldn’t muster a shot on target. Neither could Bunbury, and the two had six offside calls against them. Juan Agudelo came on but missed a late chance.
Heaps said he was happy with how Watson played at center back but more importantly, how Farrell played at right back. Farrell’s crossing was inaccurate but it appears that he will be a right back for the rest of the season. He and Chris Tierney will be tasked with getting forward to provide width to the attack while crossing for Kamara and whoever his partner will be.
Koffie sat beneath the midfield line covering for center backs, who will be challenged in the channels. Nguyen was in the middle moving forward in possession almost creating a diamond when New England attacks. How Nguyen combines with the forwards will determine how dependent the Revolution will be on its attacking fullbacks.
“It’s a good formation, it frees us up as forwards but at the same time it’s kind of new,” Kamara said. “It’s really, really new and with how many games left it’s something we have to work really fast to adapt to because defensively it can hurt us if we’re not playing the right way. It’s a good formation but it’s about having confidence in each other to play well in different positions.”
When Heaps’ Revolution turned an eight-game league losing streak into an MLS Cup run in 2014, it did so on the backs of players in their early 20s with Jermaine Jones serving as the veteran catalyst. Jones is gone, but every Revolution field player in the starting XI on Sunday has over 120 MLS appearances. Heaps did his part and said he is confident in his team to find the solution. Koffie said the new formation could go far on that front.
“The new formation brings more communication. You have to be responsible,” Koffie said. “We need a leader on the team and we do have leaders on the team but we have to be more vocal. We have to communicate more, that’s what we’re working on and we’ll get it right.”