“…we’re going to go forward and we’re going to attack.” – Jay Heaps in his introduction Q&A.
With the recent high profile success of Barcelona and Spain it’s no surprise that this has become the trendy thing to say among managers. You want to attack, you want to keep the ball, you want to out-possess your opponent. The idea being that if you have the ball there is no way for your opponent to score.
There is, of course, one issue with this tactic. It takes a certain kind of team, made up of a certain kind of player that allows you to keep the ball for the majority of a professional soccer match. The line-up the Revs trotted out to the pitch on Saturday was not well-designed to keep the ball. To be fair, neither were the Quakes. The difference was in their application.
The Revs did try to play the ball out of the back but ultimately resorted to the “hoofing” down the field that was en vogue with this club in 2010 and 2011. The full backs were particularly disappointing in this regard. Kevin Alston has yet to take the next step as an MLS caliber defender. He has great speed and shows best when he is recovering. He does not show the awareness or confidence on the ball to provide a reliable outlet. AJ Soares also struggled as the makeshift left back. You can hardly blame him for having to play a position at which he has no professional experience at, but he looked completely uncomfortable and out of sorts.
The center backs, Lozano and McCarthy, faired better on the ball but they often found themselves in tough situations thanks to the relentless pursuit of Lenhart. Lenhart is the classic player who you love to have on your club but hate to play against. He is an integral part of what San Jose does. His effort, coupled with the determination of Baca, Cronin, and Salinas, means that the Earthquakes will never be easy to beat this year. This works perfectly for an offense predicated on allowing Wondolowski freedom to roam and find positions to finish chances created on the counter attack.
The Revs also suffered from very poor forward play. The same issues that dogged them in the Desert Diamond Cup final were on display again. Brettschneider was unable to provide any sort of hold up play which meant that when the Revs finally worked the ball out of their half Brettschneider inevitably lost it. Cardenas showed a lot of good effort but rarely found himself in useful spots.
Also providing some disappointing play was the midfield which, as a whole, left much to be desired. Shalrie Joseph’s first match as a DP was quite possibly his worst match for the Revs. His sloppy passing led to one SJ goal and then nearly a second. Benny Feilhaber, much like Cardenas, worked hard to provide an outlet for his teammates but often ran himself out of position. He spent far too much time in the center of the field, where he is most comfortable, and never really checked back out to the left side of the midfield to provide an option for Soares.
Compared to Feilhaber, Rowe was more positionally sound and put together a more consistent body of work because of it. He was where his teammates expected him to be and was able to string together some decent moves.
Simms impressed in a tough spot for the Revs. He did his best to recycle possession and clean up any lose balls. He was often put under pressure thanks to the poor play up front and, surprisingly, by Feilhaber and Joseph. Considering the circumstances, he did well.
In a match where both teams looked like they could have used a little more off-season work, the San Jose Earthquakes defeated the New England Revolution 1-0 at Buck Shaw Stadium in Santa Clara, California. As he is apt to do, Chris Wondolowski netted the match’s only goal. In fact, his goal was the the only shot on net by the Quakes. Going in the other direction, the Revs only managed one shot on goal themselves.
Jeff Causey, who has received less than glowing reviews for his first match as color commentator for the Revs home broadcast, put it best when he said that “there should probably be a third column in this game for when no one had the ball,” when addressing the possession percentages. Both teams were sloppy, and the ball rarely stuck for either team. When it came down to it, the Quakes put together the winning strategy.
Simply saying you want to keep the ball does not mean that you will turn up and look like Barcelona (or even Swansea). A positive philosophy is a great thing to have, but you also need the players to apply it. If the Revs can get a left back who can provide width going forward (to allow more freedom for Feilhaber) and a striker who can hold the ball up, they can start thinking about employing a more attacking style of play. Until then, they may want to considering putting themselves in the best possible position to win.