If New England had gone to Houston and Philadelphia, given two strong performances, and returned to Foxborough with two losses, we’d blame tough opposition for the team’s slow start. But with the Revolution returning home with a -5 goal difference and no goals scored, there’s only so much credit we can give their opponents. New England has problems.
In our Power Rankings we alluded to the Jose Goncalves situation. The 2013 Defender of the Year was left out of the team that lost in Philadelphia, fueling speculation that the contract impasse that created resentment in preseason is having an effect on the field. Jay Heaps said last week’s exclusion was a performance-based decision, something that became more justifiable after New England went from four to one goal allowed. From a distance, it looked like a coach telling his player to get his head on straight.
The defense as a whole needs to get its act together before Saturday’s game. Vancouver has the deepest collection of attacking talent in Major League Soccer, and while little of that came through before the closing moments of Sunday’s game at Chivas USA, a week’s reflection (and a switch back to turf) will produce a renewed Whitecaps attack. For a New England attack giving up 2.5 goals per game thus far — one that may not have the team speed to deal with the likes of Darren Mattocks and Kekuta Manneh — that’s bad news.
At the other end of the field, there may be reason for hope. Though the team has yet to score a goal, they have created some isolated chances, most notably Diego Fagundez’s first half shot that forced Philly’s Zac MacMath into one of the week’s best saves. But they’re not generating enough chances to overcome those moments, something that shouldn’t be too surprising given Lee Nguyen, Kelyn Rowe (pictured), and Saer Sene have yet to hit the field at the same time. Without its two creative midfielders working in tandem, it’s hard to get this New England team to tick.
The good news is all three are working their way back. After missing the opener, Nguyen went 90 in Philadelphia. Rowe, left out of the game at PPL Park, appears on track to return against Vancouver. Sene, who has come off the bench in each of the first two games, could see increased time against the Whitecaps.
All of which may make Saturday’s performance more important than the result, particularly this early in the season. New England needs to get their attacking trio back together and see if they can produce chances. If they don’t lead to actual goals, whether by bad luck or a great performance from David Ousted, so be it. The parts need to sync up, though.
And in defense, the Revolution midfield has to do more to get the ball off their opponents. Once Philadelphia took the lead (and survived that Fagundez chance), they were able to play out the game with the ball at their feet. Vancouver’s midfield is capable of doing the same, perhaps more so. In addition to avoiding the obvious mistakes that led to openers in Houston and Philly, the Revolution have to be stronger in front of the defense.
If they can do that, the results will come. At least, over the course of the season, they will. Over the course of 90 minutes on Saturday, though? Progress should be the only measuring stick.