Oh Say Can You See....? A back line made of three...

Parkhurst is back and so is the dreaded return of the three man back line for the Revs....as witnessed in the game last night against DC United. 

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.

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US Open Cup Semis: Revolution were out of it before it started


Fielding a side primarily made up of reserves, the New England Revolution lost a hard fought match Tuesday night, to DC United in the US Open Cup semi-finals.  Despite tying the score before halftime, the "Reservolution" was clearly outmatched by their east coast rivals.

With Twellman, Mansally and Dube all left off the roster nursing injuries, the Revs had only one true forward available to them: Adam Cristman, who has started a few games this season, but has lost his starter status to Dube and Mansally. Playing as a withdrawn forward was the young and untested Brandon Manzanelli.  Joe Germanese, Pat Phelan, and former starter Khano Smith, joined Shalrie in the midfield.  The back line consisted of newcomer Rob Valentino and perennial reserve Gary Flood, along with sometime starter Amaechi Igwe at left back.  Relegated to Right Back was another former starter Wells Thompson.

DC United fielded their senior squad.

To his credit, Steve Nicol gave the team that got him to the semis, primarily a reserve side, the opportunity to prove themselves. Still, I have to question how much Nicol really wanted to win this. He fielded only one regular starter in Shalrie Joseph.  Reis, Ralston, Larentowicz, Castro, Nyassi, Tierney, and Heaps were all left at home, leaving only Albright, Brill, and Tyler available on the bench.  They even flew in Brad Knighton from Portland to serve as backup goal keeper, to save Matt Reis for this weekend's match in San Jose. 

The Revs have an unbelievable schedule coming up which will test the limits of their core group of players.  New England are on a two game per week schedule, starting last week with the SuperLiga final, and continuing through the first week of September.  On the line for the Revs is the MLS Cup, the Supporters Shield, as well as CONCACAF Champions League qualifying.  It's easy to see how the US Open Cup, a tournament that players play primarily for bragging rights only, as there is little reward for the teams other than a trophy, would take a back seat to the other competitions that offer more prestige and financial reward. 

Nicol may have done the right thing in the end by putting more emphasis on the Revs' MLS Cup campaign.  I just don't buy the fact that he was trying to win the match.

Lalas and Gullitt - The writing was on the wall

It came as no surprise to me that Ruud Gullit and Alexi Lalas are no longer with the LA Galaxy. That the announcement came on the same day was somewhat surprising.

Alexi Lalas was just a matter of time. Personal accomplishments and national team record aside, Lalas' track record as a GM has been less than successful. Lalas is a great spokesman for the league, and his signing of Beckham definitely made headlines (not to mention sold some shirts), but his mismanagement of teams (three clubs in the last six years) speaks for itself. Alexi ought to consider a career in the league office, or in the booth at ESPN. However, I expect that he will sign on with an expansion team as a GM (Philadelphia?) and help that team get off the ground.

I am no fan of Gullitt. His playing career aside, his managerial career has not bowled me over. He was handed a great team at Chelsea, and did well there. He then moved to Newcastle where he failed to get any kind of rhythm going, and was summarily dismissed. To come over to the United States and take a team that has history, and undeniable talent, but just as undeniably the worst defense in the league, it was a tall ask to turn the team around. While the scoring has been prolific - Gullitt just could not put together any kind of defense. However, I thought that Gullitt would stick it out the season at least. Now the Galaxy will turn to Cobi Jones. Will he be the second coming of Jason Kreis? For his sake I hope so...however the Galaxy will probably turn to a more proven commodity. Who that person is, time will tell.

Seriously, what more can we expect?

The following was a response I posted on my favorite message board (www.csrnusa.com) to a good friend and fellow Revs supporter in Denmark...as in the country that Hamlet was from.  Twiggs (aka Twiggster, a die hard Leeds supporter) is less than thrilled with Steve Nicol.  I liked my resonse so much that I had to post it here.

Twiggs - agreed that the first 25 minutes WERE shite - Especially Igwe....thank god Heaps is back this weekend. But the rest was a gritty win. We came back from being a goal down twice... that is something that the Revs could definitely NOT do last year. We even came from behind in the penalty kicks!

I think Nicol has done very well with the squad he has. Consider for a moment that 6 of the 11 starters on the pitch last night weren't even on the senior squad last season, and neither Castro nor Tierney were even in the league. Heck Tierney was still in college! Yes the veteran presence of Reis, Ralston, and Joseph carried us last night, but the youngsters stepped up and held Pachuca to a goalless draw until Khano's PK, and the reserves have been getting it done in the US Open Cup as well.

Imagine what this team will be like when Twellman gets his legs back and Parkhurst and Heaps return to the back line. With Albright and Igwe firing balls in from the wings, Ralston can play behind the forwards giving Twellman, Dube and Mansally the support that they need. Nyassi is still burning defenders on the right and Castro is providing great service from the left. To be honest our problem is still the forward line! Dube and Mansally are generating chances but not converting. A veteran presence on the forward line (read Twellman) is what this team needs. Cristman is just not good enough to be more than a supporting forward (no offense Adam).

Now you may ask why hasn't Nicol signed somebody... well frankly that is not his job. It works differently over here, and the GM Craig Tornberg and VP of Player Personnel (and former Revs all star defender) Mike Burns work with Nicol and Mariner to make those deals happen. And with all the fixture congestion plus Nicol coaching the all-star team, he hasn't had any time to even scout out anybody...but you could argue that you don't even need to when your team has been getting it done.

Then there is Noonan. You could argue that he would be the Richie Cunningham to the Fonz that is Taylor Twellman,  but Nicol and co. KNOW Pat Noonan's strengths and weaknesses better than we know our ABC's. By trading him to Columbus, we get an extra draft pick, more allocation money, and we move up in the allocation table (to third place from tenth!- which means when players like McBride and Noonan come back to MLS we will be higher up in the pecking order). Plus we aren't really helping Columbus in the long term, because sooner or later Noonan will break down and end up riding the bench. If he plays more than 15 minutes a game I will be very surprised.

SO it remains to be seen how we fare the rest of the season.  I think this weekend's match against Chicago will be the true test.  But if we lose - you can't blame Nicol.  He has been the most successful coach in MLS history. 
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New England/Dynamo United

MLS Finalists in Super Liga boycott award ceremony

In the aftermath of a hard fought contest between two bitter rivals, there were signs of unity between New England and Houston when they banded together to send the MLS Management a message of discontent.

The gauntlet had been thrown down earlier this week, when players from the Revolution and the Dynamo, announced that they would pool the first and second place prize money, and split the total evenly between all players from both teams in protest to the very small percentage (15%) of the $1,000,000 "prize" money that the players actually would receive.

MLS Commissioner Don Garber was quick to condemn the idea, stating that there would be penalties if this occurred.

Whether the players went ahead with it, or not, was not clear. It was clear, however, even before the game started, that both the Dynamo and the Revolution had other ideas as well.

Just before kick off, instead of having each team take a picture of their own starting line-up, the two teams joined together, inter-mingling the squads, for one group picture. Shouts of "UNION" and "SOLIDARITY" could be faintly heard coming from the stands as the two teams stood together, clearly united.

But the real message was delivered at the end of the game, when the two teams in congratulating each other, to a man exchanged shirts with a player from the opposing team. The two teams gathered away from the stage where the Super Liga Trophy was displayed, awaiting the victors.

In a bold move, the players and coaches of both teams decided to boycott the entire award presentation. The Dynamo players left the field applauding the fans and the opposition without picking up their second place medals. Only captain Wade Barrett and coach Dominic Kinnear picked up their medals, shaking hands with the Commissioner as they did so. Neither set foot on the stage.

Then without any announcement whatsoever, Commissioner Garber went to the stage and picked up the trophy and handed it to Revolution captain Steve Ralston, who shook his hand, and then gave the crowd a small but effective pump of the fist. Then leaving the stage he joined his teammates in front of "The Fort" in the North End of the stadium, where they celebrated with their fans, coaches, and staff. Even owners Robert and Jonathan Kraft joined in the festivities. From there they paraded the trophy around the thousands of the fans who had stayed to celebrate with the victors.

Fireworks went off. Confetti filled the sky. The Minutemen fired their muskets into the air. All over an empty stage.

At the end of the night, the players union had the last word. Today, and tomorrow, there will surely be repercussions. MLS and SUM (Soccer United Marketing, Inc.), the organizers of Super Liga, will surely be working to make sure that the players and the players union do not have the opportunity to stand down from the award ceremony in the future. However, the players and the players union will have something to say as well.

Revs take the power away from Dynamo

Finally the Revs win. It wasn't the prettiest game; the Revs had to come back three times, taking all of extra time and then extra rounds of penalty kicks to do it, but they did.

I have to say, they were lucky to be going in to the half at 1-1. Not counting Igwe's bonehead maneuver of the century which led to Houston's first goal. Ching and DeRosario both missed multiple chances and should have scored.

The second half was very tentative from New England. The Revs almost seemed afraid to pressure the Dynamo. Nyassi stopped running half way through the second half...also seemed unable to feed Albright on the overlapping run, and then kept losing the ball. Twellman looked like he was playing for the first time in months...which of course, he was, but he seemed to expect more "courtesy" from referee Howard Webb. Khano seemed to be getting the better of Greg Waibel but nothing ever came of it except a few missed chances. Chris Tierney seemed to forget how to advance the ball, continually passing back to Igwe rather than playing the ball forward. Igwe's play did improve over the course of the game, but it was not the attacking play that the Revs needed. The second half came to a close uneventfully.

When Kamara scored in extra time I nearly puked. I was literally sick to my stomach. But Ralston and Joseph to the rescue! The two connect again and Shalrie scores a very gritty goal and off we go to penalty kicks.

Reis missed. He hasn't missed in a shootout ever until that point. But he did well to come back and stop three of the Dynamo's kicks for the win (I am still not sure if he got a hand on the last one or if Ashe just missed... but I don't care).

Khano had the chance to win it for us again, and he should have side footed it to his left as Onstad seemed to know he was going to the right. Probably saw Khano's pk in the replay of the Pachuca game.

But who cares in the end .... it was a great night. No awards ceremony - but that is another story. The story of the night is the Revs beat the Dynamo.


Revs beat Atlante in semis; will face Dynamo for third final in two and a half years.

Last Wednesday, the Revs defeated their newest rival, Club Atlante of Cancun, Mexico, 1-0 in the Super Liga semi-finals.

The two sides met earlier this year in a pre-season "friendly," but the game ended up anything but. Because it was a preseason game, there was no limit on the number of substitutes available to each side. Atlante used that to their advantage, making 10 substitutions in the second half, playing a total of 21 different players. The Revs ended up having eight players cautioned and two players ejected in a 1-0 loss.

This time it was New England who would win the battle on the field, in the scorline, and in the referee's book as well.

Atlante started very strong and showed their attacking prowess, testing Matt Reis on a few occasions with legitimate scoring opportunities. The Revs, employing a 4 man back line, weathered the attack as they had done with the other Mexican teams they faced in the tournament. The Revs then began to assert themselves in the midfield, with Shalrie Joseph, Sainey Nyassi, and Kheli Dube clearly making their presence felt by the visiting team, with Dube putting a number of chances off the woodwork or over the bar. In the 30th minute, it was Shalrie Joseph who connected at the end of a free kick from Steve Ralston, heading the ball in to the upper right hand corner, over the hands of the outstretched Atlante keeper and captain, Federico Vilar.

After a strong start to the second half and having the majority of the posession, Atlante resorted to "very aggressive play" (for lack of a less derogatory term) when the Revs started to re-assert their control over the match. Dube nearly connected with Mansally, who should have scored, but put his shot from point blank range well over the bar. Khano Smith also launched a shot off the rebound of a Shalrie Joseph rocket which veered wide of the goal.

The match turned more into a roller derby in the later part of the second half, with Atlante clearly being the aggressors. It was obvious to anyone who saw the game that Atlante was trying to provoke the Revolution into retaliating, in the hopes of getting one of the Revs ejected and gaining a man advantage. However, that strategy, which may have worked for Atlante in the preseason, backfired on them resulting in the ejection of Columbian striker Luis Gabriel Rey.

Later in the game, Atlante subs who were warming up behind Matt Reis actually jumped over the barrier when Revs players confronted Daniel Arreola for not playing the ball out when a Revs player was down up field. Surprisingly, the referee took no action against the players illegally on the field, and then allowed the Atlante captain Vilar time to return to his goal when the Revs were ready to play.

In the final minutes, a second caution resulted in the ejection of Atlante's Alan Zamora, and tempers began to flare. The final whistle did not come soon enough, and even as the match ended, the Revs were accosted by several of the Atlante players, including Vilar, resulting in more cautions and ejections for Revs defender Jay Heaps and Vilar himself.

But that did not stop the heated brawl on the pitch. Both benches cleared and players from both sides were getting at it. Coaches and Staff were trying to restrain the players until Security made it's way to the field. But it didn't stop there either. Atlante Players and Staff were antagonizing Revolution players and Security. One of the Atlante coaches was going after Khano Smith, and Vilar had to be restrained from attacking a stadium official.

New England and Atlante may meet again later this summer in the CONCACAF Champions League. If the Revolution win their matches against Joe Public FC of Trinidad and Tobago, both Atlante and New England will be in the same qualifying group. New England would then travel to Atlante on Tuesday, Sept. 30, while the Revolution would host the return leg on Tuesday, Oct. 21.

Rematch for Redemption

The Revolution got their revenge on Atlante. Now it's time to get their revenge on their MLS rivals, The Houston Dynamo.

Tonight, the Revolution host their new nemesis in MLS Cup Finals competition at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro. The Dynamo will be playing on short rest (played over the weekend) and without defender Eddie Robinson as well as midfielder Richard Mulrooney. The Revs defense will be without Olympian Michael Parkhurst and the suspended Jay Heaps, but will look to the revitalized bench and Pat Phelan to partner with Jeff Larentowicz in the back line if they play a 4-4-2. Twellman and Cristman are also available.

Predicted lineup for the Revolution:

Shalrie Joseph - Beast of the East

Where would the Revs be without the most feared central midfielder in MLS. For the second straight game in the tournament, Shalrie Joseph has scored the decisive goal. The first was the tying goal against Chivas USA, earning the Revs a draw and guaranteeing them a spot in the Semi-Finals. The second was the only goal scored in the semis against Atlante. Both goals he scored with his head.

In between the two games, Shalrie started for the MLS All-Star team against West Ham United; and although he didn't win the award this year, he was clearly man of the match in the eyes of many pundits around the world, once again raising speculation as to Shalrie's future in the MLS and whether he will finally find himself playing for a European side.

In my most humble opinion, I would sooner sell Taylor Twellman and use the money to sign Shalrie as a designated player, rather than risk losing him to an overseas club. Taylor may be the face of the franchise, but Shalrie is the backbone.