Monday, August 25, 2008

Revolution-Toronto FC analysis

The New England Revolution nearly accomplished something their cross-town sporting counterpart failed at last night – claiming a victory in Toronto.

The Boston Red Sox were thrashed to the tune of 11-0 by the Blue Jays at the Rogers Center, while miles away at BMO Field, the Revolution saved themselves from similar embarrassment with a solid 1-1 draw to the Reds.

Coming off an impressive 2-1 victory over DC United Wednesday night, New England’s soccer representatives took an early lead courtesy of a Taylor Twellman goal in the 35th minute, and held the advantage for a hair over a half-hour before Toronto notched the equalizer from Chad Barrett in the 66th minute.

While a draw to Toronto may be looked at through a “glass half-full/half-empty” point of view, the reality is that the Revolution claimed a point on the road with a conglomeration of first team and reserve players on the pitch. Take into consideration that the Revolution was without primary goalkeeper Matt Reis for the second consecutive match, while Taylor Twellman was the only available striker, and the Canadian job becomes that much more remarkable. The absence of healthy bodies forced Steve Nicol to employ a 4-4-1-1 formation, with midfielder Steve Ralston effectively playing the role of withdrawn forward.

The 1-1 result cannot, and should not, be underestimated. Nicol, a tactical and scouting genius, continues his masterful management of the Revolution roster. This season has been one marked with injuries to Twellman, Reis, Ralston and, most recently, Kenny Mansally and Kheli Dube. Despite these setbacks, the Revolution ship has sunk no lower than the depths of second place.

Granted, all managers have a degree of juggling they must undertake to unleash the best starting eleven for each match. It’s part and parcel of the title. But given the rash of injuries, National Team call-ups, and suspensions the gaffer’s had to deal with, it’s almost as if Nicol’s had to perform the trick with torches and knives while riding on a unicycle.

With Twellman the only healthy body up front, and Reis still bothered by injury, the former Liverpool legend not only swiped a point in Toronto – where the Reds enjoy one of the best home field advantages courtesy of the their boisterous crowd – but also managed to do so without the use of a single substitute. In fact, in one of the most unenviable of situations, the manager actually had more goalkeepers at his disposal than forwards.

Indeed, last night could have very well been one of the most notable examples of the gaffer’s fine leadership and acuity. Nicol’s overall management of one of the league’s most consistent sides is only enhanced by his keen eye for talent, as he continues to stock up on the right players every season. In fact, one of the gaffer’s key moves this season may be the acquisition of Pat Phelan from – where else – Toronto. The rookie midfielder, who’s seen a great deal of action since the trade, has the uncanny distinction of not only looking like Jeff Larentowicz, but also flashes the same brilliance the former Brown Bear does in the middle.

Meanwhile, the Revolution still finds itself seated at the table with a full plate of matches ahead of them, and nearly every player will be called upon to contribute. But by drafting well and making clever roster moves, Nicol has ensured that the club has a surplus of talent in place, as the club boasts one of its deepest rosters in recent memory.

As the Revolution makes its late-season march through the cooled air of autumn, with playoff hopes and CONCACAF Champions League fare stoking the fires, the match in Toronto may prove to be one of the gaffer’s greatest moments all season.

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