Opta Spotlight: Right flank a problem spot for New England
Over the next three weeks, MLSsoccer.com will take a look back at the 2012 season that was for all 19 clubs in Major League Soccer, starting with Toronto FC and ending with the Supporters' Shield-winning San Jose Earthquakes. You can find the schedule and comprehensive reviews for each team here.
2012 record: 9-17-8 (35 points); 39 GF / 44 GA (-5 GD)
2012 New England Revolution Average Position
Chris Tierney (8) provided width on the left, but New England's right flank is barren, partially because Kevin Alston prefers to drift inside on his dominant left foot (30). For opposing defenses, that's a predictable recipe, and maybe the reason it seems like Tierney is the only legitimate provider of wide service on the roster.
Other than that, it's clear the Revolution had too many cooks in the kitchen in center midfield. Lee Nguyen (24) drifted high and to the left, but Clyde Simms (19), Ryan Guy (13), Benny Feilhaber (22) and Shalrie Joseph (21, until he was traded) all seemed to occupy similar positions. That's not ideal, and with Joseph gone, Andy Dorman back in the mix, Kalifa Cissé brought in and Feilhaber perhaps on his way out, it appears Heaps recognizes the need to freshen up the recipe in the center of the park.
2012 New England Revolution Passing Matrix (Download HERE)
For all the talk about keeping the the ball on the ground in New England, they weren't anywhere close to the top half of the league in attempted or completed passes.
Still, they had seven players with more than 700 completed passes – A.J. Soares (777), Tierney (1,012), Alston (715), Feilhaber (908), Simms (946), Nguyen (879) and Joseph (742) – and got their forwards plenty of touches, at least compared to some of the more direct squads in MLS.
Based on the average position chart above, it's no surprise that the most production partnership was between Tierney and Nguyen. The duo exchanged passes 414 times, easily outpacing the other symbiotic relationships on the field.
1) Three men ran the Revs' attack ... and one may not be back
Nguyen didn't fit in, apparently, in Vancouver, but he certainly made an immediate impact in New England, leading the club with 49 chances created. But, and this is a big one, he had just two assists.
Same goes for Feilhaber (46 chances created, two assists) and Tierney (46 chances created, five assists). That says that the quality simply wasn't good enough up top.
The fact that nobody else on the team created more than 27 chances – Kelyn Rowe and Saer Sene tied on that number – is also concerning, especially if Feilhaber leaves this offseason.
2) New England may not have set league benchmarks in passing, but the Nicol years are long gone
As we alluded to above, New England weren't one of the league's most prolific passing sides. They were, however, light years ahead of 2011 from that perspective.
During Steve Nicol's last year in charge of the Revs, they attempted 12,387 passes and completed 8,507. What a difference a year made. With Jay Heaps at the helm, those numbers improved to 14,271 and 10,509.
That's the kind of transition that should give New England fans hope. No, they're not there yet, but progess and real change are best made gradually.
3) Heaps may not have gotten all the results he wanted, but he got New England's disciplinary issues under control
It's staggering to think the Revs earned 10 red cards during the 2011 season. That's a lot of time down a man. Throw in the fact that they racked up 50 yellow cards as well, and it was clear something had to change.
Well, it did, whether through Heaps explicit direction or a tactical or roster shift. During 2012, New England only received three red cards and 39 yellows. It might seem inconsequential, but it's a small step in the right direction in a season that didn't have a ton of noticable positives.
Random nugget: After taking seven penalty kicks during 2011, New England were awarded just two in 2012.