Revs defense shoulders burden of sputtering offense

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — In the goal-starved world the New England Revolution inhabits these days, the defensive efforts assume a greater measure of importance.

If the Revs want to collect points from any given match, they must avoid defensive mistakes due to their lack of potency at the sharp end. New England have scored a league-low 10 goals this season and haven't hit the back of the net from the run of play since posting a 3-2 victory over Sporting Kansas City on April 23.

With the attack flagging, the defense must pick up the slack and soak up pressure more often than not in order to place the Revs in a position to procure points.

“A.J. [Soares, Revolution defender] and I tell each other before every game and during every halftime that if we keep them off the board as much as possible, we're doing our job,” Revolution center back Ryan Cochrane told MLSsoccer.com earlier this week.

Off the board, in this instance, means pitching a shutout. Playing to zero represents an ambitious objective for each match, but it is a goal Soares and his teammates have embraced despite the difficult circumstances.  

“I think that's the standard you should hold yourself to: It has to be perfect or it's not good enough,” Soares said. “That being said, it's tough. One break can cost you the game. That's the way it is. I'm not complaining about it. Teams have different structures and different ways they play and, right now, it takes a perfect game for us to put a result together. That's the way it is.”

Striving for perfection and shouldering the majority of the weight for success or failure presents a strenuous mental challenge. With the Revs often struggling to acquire and secure possession for extended periods of time, the pressure usually builds as the game progresses and increases from match to match as the drought continues.

The burden can exact a mental toll if it is not managed carefully. New England have allowed just four goals and kept two shutouts in their past five matches, but they have only four points to show for their efforts. Aside from cutting out the one or two mistakes that seem to pop up from game-to-game, there isn't a whole lot more the Revs can do defensively at this point.

“People can let [the burden of being perfect] wear on them, but the important thing is to not let it wear on you,” Reis said. “This is one of the great things about [Revolution coach] Steve Nicol. Whether things are going good or they're going bad, it's important to stay even-keeled and say that we need to focus on what the bigger picture is.”

When Nicol employs a wider lens to examine this particular goalscoring issue, he cites the inconsistency in possession as the primary problem. By giving the ball away in bad spots and sputtering in their efforts to dictate the terms of the match, the Revs falter as they try to move up the field and heap pressure on their generally solid defensive shape.

Nicol said he and his charges will spend ample time addressing the underlying issue this week to help relieve some of the burden on the defensive shape.

“It helps when you know what the main problem is,” Nicol said. “If we all know what it is, we can all work toward making it better. That's what we're going to be doing all week.”

Those efforts may or may not pay dividends ahead of Friday's date with New York at Red Bull Arena (8:30 pm ET; FOX Soccer/TSN2), but Soares said the Revs cannot afford to let their defensive efforts slip even if the attack suddenly springs to life against the depleted Red Bulls.

“We need to do our job,” Soares said. “We need to give up zero. And however many our team scores, it doesn't matter. If we score four, we still need to give up zero. If we score zero, we still need to give up zero. I take the responsibility with Ryan and the other guys in the back of trying to keep ourselves at that standard and trying to get better every game.”