New England Revolution 2007 Review: Taylor and Steve and Me

New England Revolution
Record (W-L-T): 14-8-8; 51 GF, 43 GA
Source Material: Schedule/match reports; roster

Overview
I’m going to play this one a little loosey-goosey – e.g. relying less on specific match reports, player bios, etc. – and touch on things I don’t normally do. Why? First of all, because I can; I follow the New England Revolution more closely than any other Major League Soccer (MLS) team. Second, this represents my first conscious attempt to say goodbye to a team I’ve supported..well, followed, since the late 1990s. As such, an element of the personal enters into the thing. And, to mention the most loosey-goosey aspect, the end of my era with the Revs feels to me like an end of an era for the club. To put it bluntly, I don’t think they’ll be back for a fourth straight crack at MLS Cup.

With New England, it seems useful to consider the team through my odd relationship with one of their talismanic players: Taylor Twellman. I view Twellman through the sharpest of love/hate lenses. The love part is easy: the man scores goals, something one llikes to have on one’s team generally. But the hate part looms large – arguably larger. And here it is: I find Twellman dead boring. For all his take-a-touch-and-shoot efficiency, Twellman dribbles with the grace of a horse running on pavement; his passes too often recall kicking a playground ball at a brick wall. Bottom line, he has mastered two facets of the game – eluding defenders and finishing – and, to some weird aesthetic part of my brain, such talents are too transferable to “sports” in a generic sense. In other words, the sense that Twellman is a jock first and soccer player second stands as my dominant impression of him as a player.

What I think about Twellman mirrors my impression of the team as a whole: the Revolution team in my head is efficient, athletic, and, when you get down to it, dull. I can think of few less inspiring things than a generic New England goal: ball goes down the flank, wide player crosses to Twellman, Twellman scores. The occasional switch-up aside – say a long-bomb from Jeff Larentowicz on a dead-ball or one of Pat Noonan’s weird headers – the template seems fixed. Continue reading

Advertisements

MLS Cup Preview: The Revs’ O versus Houston’s (Formidable) D

(UPDATE: Blue Blooded Journo is plugging away at match-up previews of his own. Do check out his latest on Shalrie Joseph (and others) v. Dwayne DeRosario (and others).)

Ever start a project only to realize you’ve built in some redundancy? It only occurs to me now as I’m sitting down to write this, how much of the offense/defense stuff I covered in yesterday’s post on the midfield match-up. That said, I’ll be tightening the focus today, keying in on how, and how well, each team’s forwards coordinate with their midfield. And, for no particular reason, I’m going to start with New England’s offense versus the mighty, mighty Houston Dynamo back four.

By coincidence (and we’re talking big coincidence ‘cause I really haven’t poked around much today) MLSnet.com posted an ode to the Dynamo back line by freelancer and Very Smart Man, Steve Davis. There, you’ll find both bang-up stats and some entirely valid thoughts as to what makes the four-man team of Craig Waibel, Ryan Cochrane, Eddie Robinson, and Wade Barrett effective to the point of making history.

In his piece, Davis points to the mystery of why these four clearly quality players have earned so few caps for the U.S. National team. The answer centers on the Dynamo’s one weakness, one that focuses, in the main, on one man: Eddie Robinson. And what’s that answer? Robinson plays hard – if a little too hard; in my mind, he pushes the “thug” envelope to the breaking point; when the bitter sets in, I tend to view him as a dirty player. Robinson’s 70 fouls put him second in the league (behind Juan Toja) and his 11 cautions put him in first (stats here, but you’ve got to find ’em), both of which tell me that the refs see at least some of what I do. So, to answer Davis’ question directly, Eddie won’t get a call up because he’ll confront his teammates with a conga line of free kicks.

So, yeah, I’m no fan of Robinson. And his problems with fouls have a meaningful practical downside – not just the free kicks I alluded to above, but there’s also card trouble and what that will do to his play if he picks up one early. Fortunately, he’s got first-rate help all around him: Waibel holds down Houston’s right brilliantly with hard, clean play (take note, Eddie); I rate Cochrane higher than Robinson on both offensive and defensive terms; and I think Barrett is pure class, one of the league’s most complete and accomplished left backs. Add ‘keeper Pat Onstad and it’s no wonder these cats made history in 2007.

And, with regard to how this group works together, do note the stats at the end of Davis’ piece – specifically, the shots and shots on goal allowed.

What do the Revolution bring against this highly formidable back four – a unit that receives useful, at times ample, help from midfielders like Richard Mulrooney and Brian Mullan? Put it this way: I don’t know how many free-kicks “Red Rage” Robinson would have to surrender before the Revolution can exploit one, but suspect it’s higher than he’ll achieve over the course of 90, or even 120, minutes. So, let’s take a look at Plan B (I kid, I kid; this is Plan A). Continue reading

US Open Cup Primer: Predictions from Alternate Reality

In the world in which we walk and work, no one, but no one, knows the Lamar Hunt Krispy Kreme U.S. Open Cup (LHKKUSOC) Final takes place tonight. But in this crazy little niche existence that is the soccer blogosphere it’s the event of the day and previews of the game abound. Don’t believe me? Check out the Fiesta del Links posted on 3rd Degree. I tell you, it’s a veritable orgy of previews.

As we all know – or, as you will have found out after wading through all those previews – this year’s final pits an imploding FC Dallas side against a New England Revolution team made up of talented players serving life sentences in Steve Nicol’s system (wow, am I doing a lousy job of selling this one). In all seriousness, there’s something to love in almost every game and Dallas’ state of free-fall provides a pretty good story-line for this one.  With enough skill between them, the teams should put on a decent final – and at least Dallas should be  either willing, or compelled by their fans, to open up the game.  The wild card – and it’s about as “wild” as a seven of clubs – is the extent to which New England will go along.

But the most immediate question is, who will win? I found a couple people calling this one during my rounds on the Web:

Dan Loney Says It All: picks FC Dallas.

USSoccerplayers.com: picks FC Dallas (after reviewing DC’s loss to Chivas).

3rd Degree: picks New England…and it’s a Dallas outfit; go figure.

I invite anyone else out there to make a call, but here’s mine. I’m going with New England. Why? With Dallas’ confidence curled up at the bottom of the shitter, I trust New England’s organization and physical style to bully the Dallas attack – and that’s even with Shalrie Joseph sitting this one out.  In the end, New England only needs to buy enough time either Khano Smith, Steve Ralston, Taylor Twellman, Pat Noonan, or, hell, even Adam Cristman to find a way through Dallas’ six-directions-at-once back four. Put another way, I think Nicol has at last found an opponent in a final that fits his coaching methods through an unlucky accidents of circumstance (horrible run of form) and personnel (green, and as 3rd Degree points out, leaderless defense).

What am I hoping for? Good question. Nice as it would be to see the home team win, it is New England after all. You yell loudest at the ones you love most…or at least I do…and random strangers who harass cyclists…shit, that’s going to get me killed one day…

Unfortunately, that leaves the extremely small panel represented on this post divided 2-2 on who’s going to win. Anyone out there care to break the deadlock?

MLS Coaches’ Listings (e.g. Endangered, Threatened, etc.)

With it looking a whole lot like no current head coach in Major League Soccer (MLS) will lose their job by the end of the year, now seems a good time to look at who might suffer the fatal blow after the(ir respective team’s) season ends. Coming after the season, this is less a “hot seat” phenomenon than a coup de grace for a career that sloughed its mortal coil at some point in the season. The transitional nature of the off-season, when re-tooling represents a norm of sorts, might even expand the pool of candidates for the sack. For what it’s worth, I think it should; if I worked a front office, I’d certainly mull over a new direction – especially if an early exit from, or missing the playoffs altogether, afforded a little more time for such considerations.

Before getting into potential candidates for “spending more time with their families,” I’ll start by listing the coaches whose tenures seem safe: Tom Soehn (DC United); Dominic Kinnear (Houston Dynamo); Preki (Chivas USA); Juan Carlos Osorio (Chicago Fire); Bruce Arena (Red Bull New York); Jason Kreis (Real Salt Lake). Yeah, I know: Jason Kreis? I’m fairly confident he’ll get more time – e.g. one year at least to build his team – before being judged against his record. As for the rest, call those 100%, dead certain. (DISCLAIMER: barring changes in health (e.g. heart attack), lifestyle (e.g. becoming trans-gender), social sanity (e.g. saying in a public space “’Minority A’ makes me uncomfortable.”)

By now, you may picked up on some curious omissions from the above. As I see it, the realm of possibility should be pretty roomy (though, clearly, not roomy enough to include Kreis). Put another way, five games to go (give or take) means changes in circumstance remain relevant.

With that in mind, I have listed the remaining MLS coaches below flagging each as either “watch-list,” “threatened,” or “endangered” (can’t imagine the inspiration for that one). In the comments, I’ll get to details like how a given coach can move from the watch-list to threatened status and why I think this coach or that is endangered. And, so, going from the least at-risk population to the most: Continue reading