June 29, 2012
By Adam Burrows
Heaps has decisions to make in advance of Saturday’s game against Seattle
New England Soccer News Contributor
On Saturday night, the New England Revolution (5-7-3, 18 points) will host the floundering Seattle Sounders (7-5-4, 25 points), winless in their last seven MLS outings (CSN, 7:30 ET). But as the Revs approach the midpoint of the 2012 season, rookie Head Coach Jay Heaps has some decisions to make.
|Blake Brettschneider scored a goal for the Revolution in last weekend’s 2-2 draw with Toronto, but has yet to lay claim to a permanent spot in the starting lineup going into Saturday’s home match against Seattle.
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
The Revolution showed pluck and grit last weekend in overcoming a two-goal first-half deficit against last-place Toronto, but the 2-2 away draw generated more questions than answers for the 35-year-old former defender.
Starting from the back and advancing forward, the first question concerns the perennial mystery of fourth-year right back Kevin Alston.
Alston, whose chief asset is his pace, was torched for two goal-producing deliveries by Toronto left back Ashtone Morgan.
On both occasions, the speedy 21-year-old TFC academy product beat Alston to the corner and delivered spot-on crosses that were headed into the goal by Toronto strikers.
Alston left the game late in the first half with a hamstring injury and was replaced by 31-year-old German veteran Florian “Flo” Lechner.
Lechner’s value emerged in the second half as he repeatedly got forward to support the Revolution attack and deliver quality crosses, including the ultimate one deep into stoppage time that produced Chris Tierney’s dramatic game-tying header at the death.
“Flo Lechner had an excellent impact on the game,” commented Heaps, “because as soon as we got forward, he has that calm resolve to pick someone out in the box.”
Lechner, who joined New England after the season had gotten underway and then missed nine games with a metatarsal fracture before returning for the Toronto match, will give Heaps another chance to weigh the relative merits of experienced ball skill versus youthful closing speed, as Alston remains sidelined for the Seattle match with lingering hamstring tightness.
In the midfield, the ankle problems endured by Clyde Simms gave Benny Feilhaber a chance to reclaim his favored position in the center of the pitch, and over the past three games the veteran of European and international competition has flourished.
Last week, with Simms back in the lineup but Shalrie Joseph at home nursing an adductor strain, Feilhaber turned in a man-of-the-match performance against Toronto, commanding the Revolution attack, scorching the woodwork on a near-miss sizzler, and drilling the shot from distance that led to Blake Brettschneider putting New England on the board off the rebound.
Joseph is projected as available for Seattle, but the Revolution captain is unlikely to start, giving Heaps a reprieve from having to decide whether to move Feilhaber back to the flank, sit Simms or Joseph, or reconfigure the formation entirely.
Up top, Saer Sene has established himself as a match-day given with his wide-ranging play and finishing ability, but Heaps has yet to settle on a consistent partner for the lanky French striker.
Jose Moreno, Brettschneider, Fernando Cardenas, and Diego Fagundez have all auditioned for the role, but no one has yet to claim it as his own.
Heaps can continue to pick and choose depending on fitness and circumstance, but he’ll also need to get the strikers he selects onto the same page. To date, link-ups between forwards have been few and far between.
With the summer transfer window opening, the Revolution may also go hunting. This week, the front office waived Colombian defender John Lozano, made expendable by the emergence of converted midfielder Stephen McCarthy, and declined options on Swedish forward Bjorn Runstrom and midfielder Jeremiah White.
Hinting at things to come, New England general manager Michael Burns explained, "We had to make some hard decisions about our roster as we look to bring in some new players.”
This much is clear: the Revolution are a better team than they were in 2011. What’s also clear is that play is improving throughout MLS, raising the bar for Heaps and his work-in-progress.
With the Revolution riding a modest three-game unbeaten streak, Saturday’s game launching a three-game home stand, and New England rediscovering the comforts of Gillette Stadium (4-1-2 home record in 2012), the next three weeks may be as good a time as any for the club to answer questions and start a climb into the upper reaches of the Eastern Conference table.