It didn't take long for Montreal to realize that the Revolution showed up just to send them back out of New England without any points in hand. From about the 15th minute and on, the Revolution brought an energy and a cohesiveness that Montreal just couldn't match. The result was a game that was over shortly after halftime.
Let's look at the starting 11...
[caption id="attachment_585705" align="aligncenter" width="400"] Headshots from revolutionsoccer.net.[/caption]
There was only one change in Bruce Arena's starting 11 on Wednesday night against Montreal, and that was the switch from Tommy McNamara to Kelyn Rowe in the center midfield. Alongside Rowe was Lee Nguyen, and Scott Caldwell played below them. Tajon Buchanan and Teal Bunbury played on the wings with Gustavo Bou running the lone forward role up top. Across the back from left to right were Alexander Buttner, Henry Kessler, Andrew Farrell, and Brandon Bye. Matt Turner started in goal.
Maturity on the ball
This was my favorite part of the Revolution's game against the Impact. The primary factor that I noticed was the decision-making of players to play patient, versus when to play direct.
The reason why this was so noticeable was the consistent change in Montreal's defensive shape over the course of the game. There were times when they were pressed high and times when they sat in deeper to keep themselves more condensed; and the Revolution had answers for both of those situations.
Take a look at Montreal's defensive shape when they fell into a defensive 4-4-2 (which I thought was their favored position throughout the game). Apologies for the blurry image, the screen was moving quickly.
You can see Rowe near the dot in the center circle, he had just played a long direct ball over the top. As you can see, Montreal has two clear lines of defense and the Revolution forwards/wingers had no interest in building their play through the middle of the field. Instead, they sat on top of the Montreal defenders and waited for the direct passes of Nguyen, Rowe, and the rest of the players below them.
It was successful enough for Montreal to adapt different defensive shapes, or else they would have welcomed those direct passes all game. But, the Revolution played with patience during times when Montreal was playing the aforementioned high line. Nguyen did a particularly great job of sinking down below Caldwell - and even the outside backs at times - to help alleviate the pressure on the defenders and move the ball all over the field.
Take a look at the clip below to see an example of the patient play to build out of their own end after Montreal pressed their forwards on.
Here's another example of the Revolution midfield recognizing the opponent's pressure, and deciding to play in one touch to build out of it and move the play forward. This time it was Caldwell, but I thought the Revs midfield as a whole did a good job with that over the 90 minutes.
The set piece difference
The difference in set piece success since the team largely shifted away from having Kelyn Rowe take most of them is astonishing. If you remember how poorly the Revolution were with set pieces over the summer, this game should be a serious breath of fresh air. Lee Nguyen was spectacular with his distribution on set pieces and generated at least five shots on goal from corners alone. It wasn't just Nguyen, though, Fagundez was able to connect with Buksa for a decent chance in the 85th minute.
[caption id="attachment_585884" align="aligncenter" width="350"] Passing map from mlssoccer.com.[/caption]
For a good portion of the game, the Revs' corner kicks were the most impressive part of the attack. When Kessler finally broke through, it felt like a long time coming.
I believe the main reasons behind this type of difference in set pieces - corners in particular - were below:
- Execution - There are some players who can put the ball where it needs to be, when it needs to be there. Nguyen has been one of those players and Kelyn Rowe has not.
- Off-ball movement - Instead of being stagnant before the ball is kicked, it's clear that the Revolution have clear movements and purpose in their movement off of the ball. Players are creating separation between defenders, making runs across the six to the front post, and the Nguyen even found Bou on the far corner of the 18-yard box on one play that was clearly drawn up on the training ground.
- The opponent - I don't think it had anything to do with their size and athleticism (they have plenty of guys that should be able to handle themselves aerially), but rather the overall enthusiasm in the game itself. This reflected in almost every other factor in their game, and I think it was particularly evident in set piece defending.
I don't want to take away from the drastic improvements that the team has made. Even before the Impact knew they were out of the game, the Revolution had already shown sizes of life in that segment of the game.
The final theme that was clear to me on Wednesday night was the Revs' desire to disrupt the Impact's build with high pressure when necessary.
Take a look at this play that happened right at the turn of the 5th minute.
The ball had just been played from an Impact center back to the goalkeeper, and they were going to attempt to build their attack out of the back from there. But Lee Nguyen led his team into a press that suffocated the opponent and kept their backs to goal. They quickly diffused Montreal's attempt and boxed them into a throw-in in their own end.
Now look at this play from the 23rd minute.
When the Montreal goalkeeper rolls the ball into the midfield, the idea that they want to play out of the back is obvious. So you can see that New England does a good job of collapsing their center midfield to the ball, and forcing a short pass back to Montreal's goal. From there, the play only goes farther negative and Arena's team forces a turnover by way of desperate clearance.
Impressive effort from the entire team on this one. It takes everyone on the same page for that to work.
Lee Nguyen - This performance from the newest member of the team is one that puts points in the column for any team in any game in MLS. He was offering his team the movement and poise in the midfield that has been missing for most of this season. I had him down for six chances created and no one else really came close to producing as much as he did.
But it wasn't just his efforts in the attacking third of the field, his movement off of the ball in their own half was prevalent and he made some good plays on the defending end as well.
Scott Caldwell - Caldwell was the only central midfielder that played the entire 90 minutes. He was relentless in his tracking on the opposition and had multiple situations where he dispossessed the other team in their own half; one of which resulted in a scoring chance.
Henry Kessler - On top of him doing the leg work to get on the end of a couple corner kicks, Kessler was really good in his positioning on defense. I didn't have one situation marked down where he was out of position that resulted in a chance for Montreal, and I also didn't have him marked down for a single giveaway.
Teal Bunbury - Bunbury wasn't on in this one. You really can't know what to expect from him game-to-game because he's so inconsistent. Wednesday's game was one where his hold up play wasn't on, he couldn't get enough separation from defenders on the dribble to get quality shots off, his runs weren't as dynamic beyond the opponent's back line, and his finishing was hardly a threat to the Montreal goalkeeper.
The one shot that he got off didn't hit the target and it came from the play where he flicked it over his head to hit it on his first touch on the other side; a dream situation for Bunbury, not a high percentage attacking chance.
Andrew Farrell - Farrell's performance in this one was the opposite from the game against NYCFC. His distribution was off and he made some lazy giveaways. It would be nice to see him put some mature performances together back-to-back rather than being so hot and cold.
He was also very guilty of falling asleep and thinking the opponent had given in on the late Impact goal. He didn't keep his head on a swivel and pinched in on a player that should have been picked up by a midfielder. The Impact forward recognized the space in behind Farrell (the space he left to pinch into the midfield) and simply received the ball into the channel behind Farrell. The forward took his touch inside to cut off Farrell and the rest was history.
He should have been even with Kessler, which would have put him in the proper position to cut off the forward's path to goal before he got in behind.
Brandon Bye - Bye recorded one of the lowest passing percentages on the team in a game where most of his teammates recorded passing percentages in the 80s. He wasn't his normal self getting forward in the attack and I didn't find his crossing game all that effective.
On the other side, DeJuan Jones played 20 less minutes than Bye and was able to tally two key passes and almost as many touches; Jones had 70 and Bye had 78.
Excuse me while I ponder over whether or not Cristian Penilla will get out of his rut anytime soon...