CHESTER, Pa. – From the opening whistle of Wednesday night’s 4-4 draw against the Philadelphia Union, the New England Revolution demonstrated their willingness to press the initiative with the wingers and play out wide.
It was by design. Revolution coach Steve Nicol wanted his side to funnel the ball to Chris Tierney on the left and debutant Monsef Zerka on the right to create supply lines for strikers Milton Caraglio and Rajko Lekic and open up operating room for Benny Feihaber and Shalrie Joseph in central midfield.
“That was our plan,” Tierney told MLSsoccer.com after the match. “We figured that if they want to come cover us out wide, then we'll take that because Benny and Shalrie can operate in there as well as anyone. We figured that they'd try to close Benny and Shalrie down and that would give us the space out wide. That's how it played out.”
In the absence of defensive cover from Union midfielders Roger Torres and Freddy Adu, Tierney and Zerka were able to challenge and overwhelm fullbacks Gabriel Farfan and Sheanon Williams in the early stages of the affair. Tierney provided two assists and served in several dangerous crosses during the opening half, while Zerka headed in one of Tierney's crosses for his first MLS goal, took a quick throw-in that allowed Lekic to draw a penalty and won the set piece that led to AJ Soares' opener.
By forcing Philadelphia to stretch their defensive shape horizontally to address the pervasive issues on the flanks, Tierney and Zerka carved out more space for Feilhaber and Joseph to use in the middle. Feilhaber eventually drove home the Revolution's fourth and final goal of the first half just after the half-hour mark to reinforce Nicol's contention that the initial game plan benefited every member of his front six before the interval.
“We created chances,” Joseph said. “We moved the ball well. We got Benny onto it. The wide guys put great balls into the box. Chris, in particular, put in some great balls. We were moving forward and attacking as a group. In the second half, we just didn't do what we needed to, sat back too much defensively and allowed them to play.”
The first-half toil on the flanks may have constructed the lead, but the second-half struggle ultimately ensured those four goals yielded just one point on the night. Although the Revs will likely take this template forward with them for the final seven games of the season, they will hope to turn the steady diet of wide play into three points on a regular basis instead of just a positive aspect to take from yet another devastating draw.
“We got some decent service into the box and scored some goals, but it's just disappointing that we can't get a result out of it,” Tierney said.