Note: As a result of the draw against Toronto, New England finished second in Group C and will play the Philadelphia Union in the Round of 16 at 10:30 p.m. Saturday (ESPN2). A look at the bracket so far (with a win, the Revolution would play the Columbus vs. TBA winner — either Real Salt Lake or Minnesota United).
I have used this phrase before, and I am not sure it has ever been more applicable for this team; this game was a tale of two halves. Due to injury and load management, Bruce Arena rolled his team out in a starting 11 that had six different players compared to the previous game against D.C. United. Most of the changes featured young and inexperienced players with less size and physical ability. Toronto FC took full advantage of the mismatches and dominated the first half, only to have Arena adopt the second half group and hang on to a point.
Let's look at the starting 11...
[caption id="attachment_572388" align="aligncenter" width="408"] Headshots from revolutionsoccer.net.[/caption]
A couple of significant changes for New England in their third and final Group Stage game against Toronto. Three changes in the back, as DeJuan Jones got the nod at left back, Henry Kessler started at left center back, Andrew Farrell started at right center back, and Brandon Bye remained at right back. In the midfield, Bruce Arena decided to stay with Kelyn Rowe and Scott Caldwell, with Diego Fagundez playing just in front of them. Arena also opted to start with two different players on the wings in Tajon Buchanan and Teal Bunbury. Adam Buksa started in the forward role and Matt Turner started in goal.
Center back play
This was probably the biggest takeaway from this game. At this point, Henry Kessler has received a decent amount of playing time at this level and in doing so has played alongside Andrew Farrell for multiple games. However, the gap in games has shown us that the two of them have some work to do before they are locked in as the two starting center backs going forward.
The was a lot of talk - during the in-game commentary and on Twitter - of Arena's frustration with the officials for not making offside calls against Toronto in the first half. But when he watches the film back, I think he's going to realize that those situations had more to do with sloppy play on the part of his center backs. Let's take a look.
The first instance happened late in the 19th minute...
The play started with Chris Mavinga (Toronto center back) carrying the ball into the midfield. Several things happened as he approached the midfield: 1) Tajon Buchanan pinched in to press him, 2) Kelyn Rowe stood in his spot to hang with the midfielder in front of him, and 3) Andrew Farrell stepped way out of his position to get in front of Ayo Akinola (Toronto's forward).
Now if you ask me, there are many things wrong with the center backs here. First, Farrell placed too much importance on getting in front of Akinola (the forward) to deny him a pass from Mavinga (the center back). He should have stayed goal-side of the forward and applied pressure if the ball went into him. Instead, he stepped in front of him and left him in behind.
In theory, this should have been fine because (as you can see in the clip) Farrell clearly motioned to Kessler, implying that he should have pinched in behind Farrell to take the forward when he pressed forward. For center backs that have better chemistry, this would happen without any communication, but these two clearly aren't on the same page with that; or Farrell didn't communicate that expectation soon enough.
To Kessler's credit, Farrell's decision to get in front of the forward was premature and irresponsible; especially if he didn't communicate his expectation to Kessler. It's not something that many good center backs do because it's far more traditional and responsible to stay goal-side of the forward. Having said that, Kessler also made an error here. Instead of realizing Farrell's mistake and rushing over to defend Akinola, he faints forward to try and pull a little offside trap. But an offside trap is something that you have to get absolutely right. If you mess it up, the forward is in behind with no one on him.
It happened again around the 45-minute mark...
It's similar in that Farrell was in front of the forward and focused on the player with the ball in front of him. When he turned his head away from the forward, the forward simply snuck in behind him and Kessler wasn't on the same page to predict it and slide over to justify Farrell's decision.
You can also see that Kessler was banking on Akinola being offside because he turned his head during his recovery run to see if the assistant referee's flag was raised. After the play dissipated, the camera panned over to Arena, who was berating the referee, claiming that it should have been offside. But as you can see, Akinola was clearly in front of Kessler when the ball was played. I think it's time for Arena and Kessler to worry a little less about harping on the referees for making the right call, and a little more about what they have going on at that position.
All around, these two instances should be enough for you to be extremely worried about what the Revolution have at the heart of their defense.
The midfield difference