Thursday, August 19, 2010

Diary of a Losing Club 8/19

(Photo:Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)

If you're like me, you probably have an unhealthy interest in popular culture, an obese pet, and a subscription to Soccer America's informative daily e-mails. I could probably speak on the first two at an embarrassingly great length, but this blog isn't about Snooki's recent arrest, nor about my beloved feline Boostie.

No, this post is about soccer. I mean, this isn't called "The House of Soccer" because we talk about our crushes on Justin Bieber. Or whether to align ourselves with Team Jacob or Team Edward. That's not to say these issues aren't important. They are. But, let's get real, there's really no debate. Justin Bieber is a hottie. How could you not have a crush on him?* And Jacob is waaaay hotter than Edward. Case closed.

(*Well, apparently my younger cousin, who plotted to marry Mr. Bieber, has since fallen out of love with him. Sigh. To be teeny-bopping twelve year old.)

Wow, I'm getting distracted. Back to the soccer stuff.

On Tuesday morning, my AOL inbox warmly welcomed an e-mail from Soccer America entitled, "Section 1: SA ranks MLS backlines..." Needless to say, it an e-mail was one I read with much anticipation.

According to the rankings, L.A. has the best. No real surprise there. They're followed by Columbus and RSL. Again, no surprises.

Call me biased, uninformed, or Brian, but I was actually surprised to see the Revolution ranked 14th out of 16th. Seriously? Are they that bad? Only Philly (15th) and DC (16th) were ranked worse.

Here's what Soccer America had to say:

"14. NEW ENGLAND. Preseason: 6. The smooth central partnership enjoyed by Darrius Barnes and Emmanuel Osei last season has seldom been revived, and while right back Kevin Alston is as tenacious as ever, left back has been a rotation of rookie Seth Sinovic, Chris Tierney and recently Cory Gibbs. Yet recent results are encouraging; the Revs won all their SuperLiga group games by 1-0 scores, and they’ve beaten D.C. and Houston by the same result in their last two league games. "

My first beef with this assessment is this: no stats. We know that Barnes and Osei haven't been on the same page much this season. We know that sending a centerback to do a wingback's job (Gibbs on the left) usually doesn't work. And we know that the left back spot has been a carousel of curious selections (Khano Smith? Really?).

The first half of the season was a horror show. It was goals galore for the Goats, Sounders and Salt-Lakers. At the half, the goal differential was an frightful -13. That kind of number usually gets alot of teams a head start on the November tee times.

Since then, however, the backs have actually performed quite well. Before last night's showing in Chi-town, they'd only conceded a pair of goals since they were ravaged by RSL. That's two goals in seven games, homeslice. It was all good. D-Barnes and Alston were back to their 2009 selves. And I was optimistic. I started to like this club's chances down the stretch.

Then, Wednesday night occurred, and it became crystal clear why the local lads were ranked so low. Marco Pappa, Freddie Ljunberg, and Rev-killer Calen Carr all ran over the back four like the bulls in the streets of Pamplona. And the Revs were gored.

Its all reminded me of why this club was so awful earlier this season: the backline. Cory Gibbs is serviceable in the center, but he should be performing better than a player of his pedigree. Put him on the wing, and he tends to peace out for hours on end.

There's no debate that Kevin Alston is an All-Star defender. There are pictures and video to prove it. He's heady, speedy, and at times whimsically creative. But am I the only one who watches him and wonders if he'd be better in the midfield?

Darrius Barnes was hurt for much of the first half, so all he could really do is appear in those videos on the Gillette Stadium big screen teasing the crowd that they need to cheer louder. He's probably the only defender that hasn't been embarrassed all season.

Meanwhile, can someone orchestrate a mediation between Osei and Matt Reis? This is Osei's second season, and yet, him and Reis communicate about as well as Kate and Jon. It should be an easy problem to fix.

Then, of course, there's Chris Tierney, who probably isn't in the speediest wingback in the league. He's grown into a classic utilityman, playing everywhere but striker and keeper it seems. And, of course, there's Seth Sinovic, who seemed to channel Jay Heaps early on before his form started to resemble Manny Motajo and he was sent to the bench by Stevie Nicol.

What can the Revs do? Here's a thought: switch Pat Phelan to centerback. Hey, it's not as crazy than Khano at left back. Larentowicz 2.0 played pretty well in that capacity against LA last month. Of course, that leaves a huge hole in the middle. Here's another thought: slot Jason Griffiths into Phelan's spot.

Despite their recent form, the Revolution backline, as a whole, is still shakier than one of those vibrating leather chairs you pay like two bucks to sit in at the mall. Well, at least the malls I go to. Maybe it's a southeastern New England thing.

If Stevie Nicol still thinks his club has a shot a the postseason, then the defending has to improved, like, immediately. And if tinkering is what it takes, then so be it. The backs, whether it's Phelan in the center, Osei on the right, and/or Alston on the left, have to play better as a unit. Otherwise, we may not see another Chicagoland showdown come late-October.

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