FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — New England coach Steve Nicol took his wingers to the side before Saturday night's 1-0 victory over Vancouver and underscored a point he has made for several weeks.
If the Revs want to create more chances in the attacking third, they need to get the ball wide and serve crosses into the box early.
“That was definitely the plan,” Revolution midfielder Chris Tierney told MLSsoccer.com after the win. “You've seen what Rajko [Lekic] can do with some decent service. The more we can get balls in the box, things happen. [Revolution coach Steve Nicol] told me that any time I had space to try to whip it in. Especially on a slick surface like there was [against Vancouver], the ball bobbles around, things happen and goals go in.”
With Tierney on the left and Zak Boggs on the right in Nicol's 4-5-1 setup, the Revs had the knowledge and the tools in place to put the plan into action.
“We've played them already,” Boggs said of the Whitecaps. “We knew what they had in the back and we knew that we'd definitely be able to get balls in early. That's what we've been trying to do in practice and in the last couple of matches.”
The function of relying on wide players to provide service is twofold if it unfolds correctly: it increases supply into the penalty area and stretches the field horizontally to create more room in the center of the park.
New England's strength in central midfield — Nicol's midfield triangle included Benny Feilhaber, Shalrie Joseph and Stephen McCarthy against the Whitecaps — often forces teams to determine whether to cut down on the space out wide or congest the proceedings in the middle.
“When you have guys like Benny and Shalrie in the middle, the other team has to be aware of those guys,” Tierney said. “They're going to pinch in and cram the middle up. It gives us a little more space out wide. It's just a matter of how well you use that space.”
Boggs and Tierney did their best to employ their opportunities to the Revs' advantage, particularly in the first half. Feilhaber nearly scored from one of Tierney's compelling crosses before Vancouver defender Mouloud Akloul deflected the effort clear, while Boggs' ball right before halftime posed a significant threat until Akloul managed to head away the danger.
“[Tierney] was hitting some great balls in and I had a good ball in during the first half,” Boggs said. “It just makes things a little bit more unpredictable.”
The wing work also created some space for Feilhaber to exploit — he had a potential goal ruled out on a suspect offside call shortly after Joseph put the Revs ahead from the penalty spot in the second half — with his darting runs forward. If the Revs can continue to pose a threat in the wide areas, Feilhaber and Joseph will have more opportunities to find those seams, according to Tierney.
“Once crosses start coming in, their backs have to step out wide and it opens up space in the middle,” Tierney said. “We're happy to do that because we've got one of the best central midfield pairings in the league. If they want to step out on us, fine, we'll let Shalrie and Benny play. If not, we'll keep swinging them [into the penalty area].”
The extra crosses haven't paid off in additional tallies as of yet, but Boggs said he believes the tactic will reap dividends if the Revs continue to use the wide areas to their advantage.
“I think if we keep doing this, the goals will start coming,” Boggs said.