Funny how, in the space of five days, we went from watching open, expansive, free-flowing football (in the 3-0 home win over Chivas USA), to a match so turgid and fragmented that it may well have tested the resolve of even the most ardent fan of the game.
First of all, when your team has lost eight in a row, only the result matters. New England Revolution fans will have lapped-up every solitary second of that success, which was fully deserved. So desperate were they to drag themselves out of their sorry streak that they played with much greater intensity and urgency. Yes it was ugly and yes it was cynical, but it was also effective.
That said, the Revs tactics were only effective because the match referee failed to realize what they were up to. With the early goal – which has somehow since been awarded to Lee Nguyen after a hefty deflection off the boot of Drew Moor (don’t ask) – New England were determined to break up the flow and rhythm of the game in an attempt to stymie any Rapids revival.
Persistent infringement went unpunished and the end result was an awful match to view, both for Rapids fans and the impartial observer. A few stern words from the ref, and maybe a yellow card or two, may have given us something worth watching.
Now, don’t get me wrong, the Revs chanced their arm and it paid dividends. From a Rapids stand-point, it seemed they were unable to match the ugliness of the opposition defensively. Desperate teams will resort to desperate measures. They will test the patience of the ref and the resolve of their opponent, but you need to be able to combat that, which is something the Rapids appeared unable to do.
The Revolution played with greater intensity and a far greater urgency. They closed down space, disrupted play and refused to allow the Rapids to settle. Going forward, the Revolution were more effective because they were going up against a side chasing the game, and so needing to keep the ball alive, needing to win back possession rather than simply breaking up a move with an indiscretion.
In the aftermath, and on hearing head coach Pablo Mastroeni’s post-match comments, I began wondering how he would have handled such a contest.
“It definitely looked like there was a team playing with a greater purpose tonight,” Mastroeni told reporters. “Again, (they were) on the front foot, just imposing themselves, early and often in the game, setting the tone. These guys were hungry and we were late to the dance tonight.”
This was one of those games where the Rapids needed somebody in the middle to grab it by the scruff of the neck and shake it up. It needed an imposing boss to step in and sort things out, ruffle a few of the Revolution’s feathers.
The Rapids were knocked out of their stride. They looked a little giddy and, when Thomas Piermayr was shown a second yellow card and sent off, any chance of improving their recent road record went with him.
Rapids fans are hurting after witnessing that one. Mastroeni will expect his players to share the pain of such a defeat and such a performance.
“It’s important to feel what this feels like,” he said. “So that next time we step on the field, if this is what it’s going to do, you better be missing arms and legs and (have) that type of mentality - that there’s no tomorrow.
“I think the feeling that I have in my stomach is just that. It’s a feeling that we just didn’t approach the game the right way, from me all the way down, and don’t want to feel this again.”
As the playoffs loom large, expect other teams to fight as if their lives depended on the outcome of a regular season showdown. In other words, there will be other days like Wednesday. There will be teams who, on the face of it, appear to need the win more. That cannot be the case from here on in.
The Rapids need to bring their ‘A’ game to the next 13 regular season battles, for they will be battles. Greater intensity, greater hunger and greater imagination than seen midweek will be needed.
It was more than a little worrying to see how easily the Revolution kept the Rapids at bay. This was a home side that had not kept a clean sheet in any of the previous ten games, and yet – the Dillon Powers drive aside – goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth had very little to do.
The month of August will go a long way to deciding the Rapids’ fate this season. And, yes, expect changes to the lineup. I hear the dissenting voices blaming the absence of Vicente Sánchez, Dillon Powers and Dillon Serna for Wednesday’s woes. To that I say two things:
- The players put out there can do better, and have done better this season. They fell short in Foxborough. The same 11 cannot play three games in eight days, with the second of those three games on the east coast ... and on turf. Like it or not, we’ve just got to accept that.
- Had Sanchez, Powers and Serna played the full 90 against the Revolution, then one would doubt they’d be sufficiently recovered to tackle Real Salt Lake at home on Saturday night (TICKETS), and that wouldn’t go down well either.
It wasn’t soccer ability which was lacking on Wednesday, rather the inability to appreciate that sometimes you have to roll up your sleeves and slug it out. That’s not the pretty approach but, as witnessed Wednesday, it can be pretty effective.