Getting a “Handle” on Opening Day
FOXBORO MA - It was a fine March Saturday afternoon.
Well, let me rephrase that: it was a sunny March Saturday afternoon .
Fine would imply that I wasn’t forced to shell out $20 for New England Patriots fleece gloves at the Patriots ProShop. Don’t poke fun. If you were glove-less, you had glove envy.
Lots of glove envy.
None the less by the time my fellow New England Revolution supporters and I started our march towards The Fort, the blistering wind was the least of our worries. Smiles were across our faces and brew was warming our bellies. The minions of Steve Nicol made our way into our seats. Drums began to beat, cheers were started and all were armed with streamers – streamers that became a work of art as they flew through the spring sky.
The streamers eventually landed on the unexpecting (or perhaps expecting) DC United goalkeeper Pat Onstad. While trying to escape, Onstad looked like he got upset with his girlfriend, but couldn’t leave because he got stuck at the poorly decorated Senior Prom exit. Much like quicksand, his frustrating swipes just got him tangled further.
A friend of mine, at his first professional soccer game and perhaps his first soccer game in general, turned to me and said:
“Wait – they can do that?”
I answered “Yea, sure.”
He delightedly responded “Oh wow.”
I cracked a smile which did not leave for the rest of the game – ignited by my buddy’s joy of enjoying a game I loved and he ignored (or by the fact a grown man trying to do his job was pummeled by cheap party favors) and fueled throughout by the Revs capturing three points in their home opener.
Only moments after Onstad and some Revolution ball boys were able to rid the box of all the crepe paper (or whatever the hell the streamers were made out of), Revolution Captain Shalrie Joseph found second year forward Zack Schilawski for a goal. Schilawski clearly handled the ball before he put it on net. His original attempt was blocked, but he was able to put away the rebound.
Not even ten minutes later Joseph, who has played as well as anyone in the MLS throughout the first two games, netted a penalty shot. The penalty kick was awarded after a second questionable call by referee Baldomero Toledo. DC United defenseman Dax McCarty struck down Pat Phelan on what appeared to be a fair challenge on a 50-50 ball, but was pinned for a takedown.
DC United Forward Charlie Davies, who came in at halftime, put away a penalty kick of his own in the 90th minute to avoid the shutout for the United. The man of the match could of went to a number of people on the Revolution side with Goalkeeper Matt Reis making some heads up plays and crucial saves and Joseph making his presence felt throughout the afternoon. All in all it was a relatively sloppy match with a number of penalties and a couple of questionable goals.
Oh well, cry about it you could potentially say to a DC fan, but there are some underlying notions about our side that I noticed and do not particularly like.
Much like how the day appeared to be nice before heading to Foxboro – only to be greeted with chilly winds comparable to Hoth, the Revolution appear to be back to form with four points, but I remain extremely cautious. There are a number of concerns that linger.
The defense is without a doubt the most improved dimension of their game. Coupled with the return of Reis, this side looks to turnaround from a year in which they conceded a league high 50 goals. Fairly promising, so you can only be happy.
What I am concerned with, however, is possession. The Revolution were marginally outplayed by the LA Galaxy last week because they were unable to control the ball. Although finding possession statistics in the MLS is as easy as finding an Egyptian cobra doing its thing in the Bronx, In LA, the Galaxy were able to show their advantage in play with shot differential. New England had one shot on net to the Galaxy’s seven.
I am not saying either team was tremendous, especially in the weather, nor am I trying to say New England was lucky in their matches, slipping by while the other team dominated. They just haven’t been able to take over for long periods of time or impose their will on the opposition.
Against DC, New England had a number of chances to settle down and take control of a whistle crazy game. A few times, the Revolution could have maintained possession and truly worn down the United’s will and chances of coming back. They just could not put it together.
On a good note, they have been able to score early and still hold onto points- something that they weren’t particularly good at last year. In all of last season, the Revolution only had 12 matches with first half goals and only in six of them did they managed to secure points. Those type of figures emphasize the need for more possession – as they are a result from a lack of it.
All three goals this year have come in the first half: good thing. Two of them the result of questionable calls and followed by a lack of control: concerned.
The fact of the matter is – the season is still young. I am being pessimistic for a team that already has four points, with one of them coming from a tie on the road against last year’s best regular season team. Ousmane Dabo, as Coach Nicol pointed out in the pre-season, can surely provide some stability in possession. There is no reason to spoil a good thing. There are obviously some things to work on, but take this all with a grain of salt. The team looks as if they will start improving and not getting worse.
As we were leaving, my newly soccer acquainted friend said to me “I’m going to come back next week”
Hell, that’s a good idea. The Revolution have four points in two games. I am perfectly fine with that.
Matt Martins is the official blogger for “The Rebel Yell” our Official Rebellion blog. He is also a contributing writer for WorldSoccerReader.com.
You can harass Matt on Twitter @Matt_Martins