Drilling down on: at New England 4, Vancouver 1

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Man of the Match: Remember that day Lee Nguyen truly arrived in Major League Soccer? We’ll ask the question again later, but on Saturday, Nguyen scored the first and last goals in New England’s rout. All the sweeter, the result came against the team that cut him at the end of preseason.

Packaged for takeaway:

  • Vancouver started strong. They looked like they were a step quicker than New England, their opening goal an illustration of that. They were outworking their hosts, exploiting A.J. Soares, and given Sebastien Le Toux was denied on by Matt Reis on a point blank chance early, it was no surprise David Chiumiento, Le Toux and Eric Hassli (the goal scorer) put the Whitecaps ahead in the fifth minute.
  • One minute later, Vancouver’s defense show their intent to define the match. On Nguyen’s opener, no Whitecap defender showed the needed urgency to content, clear, or even try to block the shot. They just stood there, as if each defender expected the man next to him to make a play for the ball.
  • It was a combination of unfamiliar and underperforming you’d expect from a defense that had yet to play together this season. First string center back tandem Jay DeMerit and Martin Bonjour were left out. Alain Rochet was moved in from the left to start along side Carlyle Mitchell, while Jordan Harvey played at full back (Lee Young-Pyo started on the right).
  • The defense was also problematic on the next two goals. On the second, Nguyen was able to dribble from the left, beat two guys, and play the ball into the space Mitchell vacated, Saer Sene having got position on Rochat. On the third goal, Sharlie Joseph had plenty of room to blast a ball into the left of goal from inside the penalty area.
  • For Vancouver, this match may have just been a product of a compacted MLS schedule and a huge continent. The Whitecaps played in the Canadian Championship mid-week and had to make one of the league’s longest road trips a few days later. If you’re looking for reasons why Martin Renne changed things up, combine those with the turf and opponent and you have your answer.
  • New England’s midfield: Nguyen on the left; Benny Feilhaber on the right; Joseph between them with Clyde Simms behind. Not too bad, right? They had three goals and an assist on Saturday, and after some early uneasiness, they contained Vancouver’s midfield despite being at a numerical (and possession) disadvantage.
  • Another thing that helped the Revolution with that early pressure: This is a team that seems much more confident on the ball – much less likely to punt-and-push – than Steve Nicol’s last teams.
  • A scary moment in the 20th minute echoed an event in the Montreal-LA Galaxy game. Mitchell, going up for an aerial challenge, was flipped on his face by Sene. He was down for around four minutes clearly dazed. Earlier in the day, Landon Donovan went face-first into turf and seemed symptomatic of a head injury. In both cases, the players played on. In both cases, I couldn’t help but wonder if they were returning too soon.
  • For Vancouver, this is a hugely disappointing result, but it’s also not something to be dwelt on. Thirty-two minutes of trouble from an experimental defense had them down 3-1. These games happen, particularly in MLS, where often tough choices have to be made about when you will and won’t use your 32-year-old stud defender (DeMerit).
  • Same goes for New England, though in reverse. It’s a great result, but there were still issues. The back line didn’t inspire confidence, and while Sene looks like a find, it remains to be seen who will partner with him to provide a needed, second goal scoring threat. After all, Lee Nguyen can’t score two every night.