Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Sunday Morning Striker: Revs Extinguish Fire, 3-1

The Revs returned to the friendly synthetic confines of Gillette Stadium Sunday afternoon and avenged their season-opening loss to Chicago by beating them handily the second time around, 3-1.

The match pitted 2nd place Chicago and 4th place New England, with no more than two points separating the spots in the Eastern Conference standings.

The early concern before the match even started was whether the Revs could adequately fill the hole left by Shalrie Joseph, who was suspended for the match after receiving a red card vs. DC on Thursday.

Some wondered whether manager Steve Nicol would tailor his usual 3-5-2 alignment to a 4-4-2 in order to compensate for the loss of Joseph. The gaffer was undeterred though, and the Revs went with the customary 3-5-2, inserting Michael Parkhurst in Joseph's role.

Early on in the match, it appeared that neither club was capable of making up its own mind on the attack. The ball squirted into both club’s boxes, but neither side applied the necessary pressure to make either Matt Pickens or his counterpart Matt Reis break a sweat.

Then, at 5:19pm ET, Steve Ralston airmailed a beautiful corner kick into the beehive, and the ball fortuitously found an airborne Jeff Larentowicz, who knocked home the opening goal for the Revs in the 16th minute, giving the home team an early 1-0 lead.

Another chance for the Revs came less than three minutes later, when Khano Smith streaked down the left wing, and slalomed two defenders before putting on a wicked shot that just hit the side of the net.

In the 27th minute, the best the Fire had managed on attack was a Wade Barrett rifle shot that Matt Reis cleanly batted away, depriving Barrett of the equalizer.

In the 31st minute, Diego Gutierrez delivered an inswinger off a corner kick into the Revolution box that was robustly punched out of harm’s way Reis. The Revs spearheaded a counter attack immediately after the ball was cleared, and marched downfield just before Ivan Guerrero eventually snuffed out the Revolution advancement.

Chicago tried its best to equalize before the conclusion of the first frame. The Fire found themselves in good position to achieve said equalizer on a corner kick in the 45th minute, to which the Revs cleared away from the 6-yard box. But Chicago midfielder Chris Rolfe, standing just outside the box, intercepted the ball and quickly fired a shot past Reis for the tying goal in the final minutes of the first half.

The battle for second place in the Eastern Conference standings resumed minutes later, and the Revs came out like an army of attacking fire ants in the second half. The local eleven displayed an especially spirited attack, with Ralston, Adam Cristman, and Andy Dorman all playing major roles.

In the 54th minute, Ralston and Taylor Twellman attempted to rehash their goal-scoring sequence in Frisco a week previous, when Ralston sent in a pass that Twellman volleyed right on goal. Unfortunately, the beautiful scene was interrupted when Pickens hauled in the shot.

At 6:32pm ET, Larentowicz sent a pass to Smith down the left wing, and the Bermudan delivered in a beautiful ball into the box right to Ralston to put the home club up 2-1 in the 68th minute.

In the 81st minute, Wells Thompson was inserted as a sub for Dorman. The move proved to be prescient on the part of Nicol, for less than minutes later, at 6:46pm ET, the rookie completely faked out a helpless Guerrero and laced a shot beyond the reach of Pickens, giving the Revs the eventual 3-1 result.

With the win, the Revs vaulted from 4th place to 2nd place (tied with New York) in a span of one hour and fifty-eight minutes. They currently sit a mere one point behind Kansas City for the top spot in the Eastern Conference.

Sweet Play of the Match: The score line may simply read "NE - Jeff Larentowicz (Steve Ralston) 16", but the goal was a thing of beauty. The corner kick from Ralston screamed into the box through a few white shirts, before the ball was re-routed off the heel of Larentowicz, who had positioned himself perfectly directly square with the goalmouth. The Ivy Leaguer then proceeded to redirect the trajectory of the ball past Pickens with a karate kick flick. To make the play even more cinematic, Larentowicz had his back nearly parallel to the ground, a la The Matrix.

Sour Play of the Match: The Steve Ralston goal in the 68th was sweet for Revs fans, and extremely sour for Fire fans. The sequence began with a Larentowicz pass to Khano Smith, who strolled down the left wing before sending the feed to Ralston, who banged home the goal. However, the ball was able to find Ralston completely unimpeded because at least three Fire defenders (SMS counted) stood there just looking at the ball and doing nothing, seemingly content in the role of spectator rather than participant.

Maybe he's running a marathon? Khano Smith unveiled what can be described as a "mohawk-esque" hairstyle in front of the 9,508 announced crowd. Revs commentators Brad Feldman and Greg Lalas speculated on the actual classification of the ‘do. SMS recalls that P. Diddy sported a similar style in training to run the New York Marathon back in 2003. Whichever the case, it seems to have worked, as Smith had a particularly good match which saw him open up the left side of the Revolution attack many times. Additionally, SMS is dubbing Smith’s look as the “the Diddy.”

And then there were no bright neon boots: Twellman dropped the flourescent footwear for the club's 2nd home game of the season, and did not score. This correlation between fashion and performance is critical to an insider's understanding of the game. However, SMS has no idea what the implications are.

Stat of the Match, Part 1: Jeff Larentowicz became only the 2nd American-born player on the squad to score a goal for the Revs this year. Twellman has scored four, while Dorman (England) has scored 3 and Joseph (Grenada) 1.

Stat of the Match, Part 2: Before giving up the Chicago goal in the 45th minute, the Revs had not allowed a goal off a corner kick since 2006.

Stat of the Match, Part 3: The first two goals of the match were scored off of corner kicks.

Stat of the Match, Part 4: Steve Ralston had a hand in every Revolution goal Sunday, assisting on the first and last, and scoring himself in the 68th minute

Stat of the Match, Part 5: Ralston tied the all-time MLS career appearance mark on Sunday with his 317th MLS game played, and also moved into a 2nd place tie for career assists with 112.

Stat of the Match, Part 6: Wells Thompson became the first Revolution rookie to score a goal during his first MLS season since 2005, when fellow Wake Forest alum James Riley (2005 SuperDraft, 2nd Rd.) scored a goal against New York on September 24, 2005.

Stat of the Match, Part 7: Stretching back to last season (August 20, 2006 vs. Chicago 0-1), the Revs have been unbeaten in their last nine home games (7-0-2).

What's in your wallet? The MLS players union released salary figures for the first time Friday. Among the Revolution figures, it’s no surprise that Twellman makes the most ($325,000 annually), while many of the rookies make the least amount.

Perhaps the most notable salary figures are between Wells Thompson ($30,000 guaranteed) and Amaechi Igwe ($78,000 guaranteed). Thompson was the first Revs pick during 2007 SuperDraft, while Igwe was the 2nd pick. Rarely do later picks get higher compensation than those selected ahead of them, and SMS can only surmise that this is primarily due to Igwe's status as a member of MLS's Generation adidas program.

Imagine the concept on the NFL scale: Justise Hairston, a 2007 Patriots 6th round pick, earning a fatter contract than first rounder Brandon Meriweather. Somehow, SMS posits that super-agent Drew Rosenhaus would have a hand in such a situation.

Of course, the most disconcerting aspect of the list is a large contingent of players making close to the US poverty line ($9,800 for single-person unit in 2004, according to the Federal Register). Many of these players are college-educated gentlemen who could certainly stand to earn thousands more if they had gone into the "real world” utilizing their college degrees. Instead, they bypass the promise of much greater riches in the business world to follow their dream of playing professional soccer.

Truly, these are players who genuinely play for the love of the game. Next time you hear an NFL star, or MLB slugger speak on their love of the game, give him a Revs rookie paycheck, and ask him to reiterate his supposed love of the game.

Finally, how often do we, the sports viewing public, hear about a pro athlete who has been "insulted" by a multi-million dollar contract offer? Conversely, how many times have we heard the same from MLS rookies, who often make millions less than their spoiled counterparts in the NFL? To quote Stan Lee, creator of numerous comic book characters like Spider Man and X-Men, "Nuff said."

A tip of SMS's “The Franchise” fitted cap goes out to each of the Revs rookies who pursue their dream as a pro soccer player here in the States. The soccer gods surely smile upon you efforts.

Double duty calls: After the match, both Wells Thompson and Joey Franchino were rewarded by their fine play in the first team match by acquiring additional match time in the reserve league tilt vs. Chicago reserves. Thompson was clearly the class of the field, and cartoonishly faked out Fire midfielder Floyd Franks, who fell to the ground in amazement, as Thompson blazed through the right wing before launching an errant shot. SMS proffers that this additional time on the pitch will greatly benefit Wellsie and the club as a whole, as he has already turned some heads early on in the season.

Live from the press box: This was the first game in which SMS took his place up on high in the presence of soccer heralds in the confines of the Gillette Stadium press box. SMS was impressed by the spectacular view offered by the perch, and was even more impressed by the plate of large oatmeal raisin cookies. SMS publicly sends his compliments to the chef.

Prospective Mrs. SMS candidates, take note: the way to SMS's heart is through delicious baked goods - so long as they are not the much-feared failure cookies SMS wrote about last year.

Is the Revolution becoming a staunch liberal? SMS observed that much of the New England attack was geared toward the left, with Smith matched up against one of the better defenders in the league in Dasan Robinson. SMS notes that Smith, who usually cuts wide on the wing, instead streaked inside more often than not. SMS was extremely pleased with Smith's performance, and the club's overall emphasis on the left vs. Chicago should be encouraging for any Revolution fan.

Random observation of the match: With a bird's eye view of the Stadium, SMS noticed that the graphic panel within the Gillette lighthouse flashes yellow when – get this- a yellow card was issued to CJ Brown in the 37th minute. SMS has attended numerous soccer matches at Gillette, and had not once noticed the corresponding graphics when cards were issued. In the future, SMS will be more mindful to the lighthouse graphics at key junctures within a match, and report on his findings.

US Women’s National Team Player feature: Carli Lloyd grew up in New Jersey, and before this year's Algarve Cup, had tallied only one goal in her previous 24 matches before catching a goal-scoring fever, when she scored four in four matches during said tournament. In addition to her goal-scoring prowess, she is also an “excellent shopper.” Guys - have your credit cards ready! According to her bio, Lloyd is also a fan of golf, and lists her most memorable soccer moment as her first cap for the US squad vs. Ukraine in 2005.

Join us after the LA Galaxy match on Saturday night, to which SMS will timidly abandon the spiral notebook in favor of his newly-arrived Dell Latitude X300 Centrino laptop to type, rather than pen, his thoughts as the game takes place. With the 10:30pm ET start time, SMS is concerned about the prospects of a live feed on Cox 3 in Rhode Island.

Chances of live broadcast in RI: 50%, as Cox 3 typically shows Channel 7 News between the 10-11pm timeslot on weeknights.

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