FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Against D.C. United, New England were dealt their first major in-game tactical challenge of the 2011 season. And despite some early discomboblation, the Revs emerged unscathed.
Instead of sticking with the 4-4-2 preferred during the first half last Saturday, United coach Ben Olsen introduced two new players – Charlie Davies and Fred – during the interval and switched his side to a 3-5-2 formation.
The alterations caught the Revolution players on the field a bit unaware, according to New England coach Steve Nicol.
“You go back to working on things and getting better – it took us 10 minutes to realize what they had done,” Nicol told MLSsoccer.com after the match. “We're screaming at guys from the side trying to get guys to drop into places. We can do a better job of recognizing what the opposition are trying to do quicker.”
[inline_node:332134]While it may have taken the Revs – who also had to insert Ryan Cochrane into central defense for the injured Franco Coria three minutes after play resumed – a few moments to adjust to the extra man in midfield, it did not prompt a dramatic shift in how they approached their defensive work with a two-goal cushion.
“It doesn't change much,” Revolution defender A.J. Soares said. “We play as a unit. Whatever the other team does, it doesn't dictate how we play. We still play as a unit and we still make stops regardless of who the player is.”
It does help to know those new opponents and plan to stop them accordingly. Davies possesses the desire to attack players one-vs.-one and use his speed to get in behind defenders, while Fred offers a more creative and deliberative approach as he flits around in search of space.
“[Davies has] got definite class, and Fred is definitely class as well,” New England goalkeeper Matt Reis said. “[Fred] likes to find the ball a bit and be creative. We had to be aware of that. I thought we did a nice job of shifting and sliding to cover them.”
By adjusting slightly to compensate for DC's halftime switches and the new personnel on the field, the Revs were able to retain a compact and composed defensive shape with the requisite cover inside their own half.
“We kept it in front of us for the most part,” Reis said. “They had to throw caution to the wind in the second half. They threw on two attacking players. We did well for the most part in handling it.”
The resolute defensive effort restricted United to half-chances for most of the second half. Only a late Davies penalty – one hotly contested by the Revs after Cochrane appeared to tug Joseph Ngwenya to the ground in the buildup to a set piece – handed the visitors a life line in second-half stoppage time, but the goal arrived too late to change the outcome of the game.
While it may have taken the Revs a bit of time to compensate for DC's halftime adjustments, the final result vindicates their approach to the second half, according to Nicol.
“We coped with it and we've won the game,” Nicol said. “We can't ask for too much more than that.”