It was with mixed emotions that I listened to the starting lineup. Michael Parkhurst, returning from the olympics late last week, would be making his first start for the Revs in almost a month. His return was most welcome as the defense over our last two league games has let in 6 goals, (5 of them scored in the last 15 -20 minutes either game). However I suspected that it would mean the end of the very effective 4-man back line employed during the Revs historic, undefeated Super Liga Run, with which they shut out their Mexican opponents.
My suspicions were confirmed when the rest of the line up there was announced. Noticeably absent was speedy left back Amaechi Igwe, and the more recently favored left footed Chris Tierney. Both were available as substitutes.
It is no secret that I much prefer the four man back line. Especially with Igwe and Albright making knifing inward runs from the back, creating space on the wings for the speedy outside players to move into and attack.
But it came as no surprise to me. It was, after all, just a matter of time before Steve Nicol returned to his preferred 3-5-2 line up, especially after the collapse of the defense in the last two games. Granted, the goals were all scored against a lineup that was not only without Parkhurst, but without Shalrie Joseph as well (sent off against Chicago, they score two; suspended for San Jose, they score four). With both of them available for last night's game, I was hopeful to see a 4-4-2 with a reinforced spine of Parkhurst and Joseph. But I didn't see it.
What I did see amazed me. I got up to buy my kids a blanket and what did my wondering eyes see on the pitch but a three man back line consisting of Parkhurst on the right, Heaps in the Center, and Khano Smith at left back. I shook my head in disbelief....but there he was. When I returned to my seat, I looked again.... and there was a three man back line, with Parkhurst playing left back, Albright in center and Sainey Nyassi playing right back.
And it went on. Albright would make a run, and the back line would shift to the right, with Khano dropping back. Heaps would move forward and Nyassi would drop back on the opposite side. Steve Nicol finally got through to his players and for the first time ever I saw what Nicol has been trying to do. Effectively employ the 3-5-2 with a three man back line consisting of five players.
I don't know how Nicol got through to his team, but whatever it was, it worked. The Revs defense was omnipresent and solid all night long. There were a couple of close calls, one of which resulted in a rebound for Moreno of DC who capitalized, but that was it. More impressive to me was the composure they showed on and off the ball, rarely getting out of position and covering well when they did. There was also only one yellow card for the Revs when Sainey Nyassi made a reckless challenge late in the game (who will be suspended for this weekend due to yellow card accumulation).
Only in the final minutes, when Nicol made a tactical substitution sending in fullback Chris Tierney for forward Adam Cristman, did the Revs use a four man back line, but by then he had made a 3-5-2 believer out of me.
At least until this weekend.