FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – The circumstances surrounding Saturday night's 3-0 defeat to Columbus tested one of the flaws New England has tried to address throughout this difficult campaign.
In its final home game of the season, New England wanted to send ample numbers forward in search of goals. That however created one huge problem, gaps for the Crew – one of the better counterattacking sides in the league – to exploit on the break.
“One thing we always try to work on is what is going on behind us when we're going forward,” Revolution coach Steve Nicol told MLSsoccer.com after the match. “It's important that you fill the holes in behind any time you're attacking the opposition. You have to fill the holes in, so when you do cough it up, you can keep it tight.”
Instead of keeping their shape tight from back to front, the Revs watched as the field got stretched and the Crew punished their inability to plug the gaps in transition.
Columbus sat back in the early stages, absorbed some Revolution pressure and eventually sent the likes of Andres Mendoza and Emilio Renteria into those exposed areas to pose problems in the attacking third.
Mendoza's opener – a cool finish from a Renteria flick in the 31st minute – only exacerbated the problem. The remainder of the match followed the usual template for road success: Columbus relied on its firm defensive foundation to repel any attacks and then sent balls forward quickly to punish the Revs as they chased the game.
“They throw tons of numbers forward,” Barnes said. “After we went down 2-nil, we did the same. They were just better at it. They hit us with their counters, they have some speedy guys and they have some guys who know where to put the ball. They put the ball into dangerous spots, like you saw on the third and final goal.”
Mendoza's second goal of the night (and the Crew's third of the evening) captured the problem in a nutshell. Sebastian Miranda played a quick long ball up the right flank, Renteria hit a tempting cross to the back stick after collecting the service and Mendoza polished off the move with a resounding finish.
The final goal only served to underscore the underlying issues, according to Revolution goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth.
“In the second half, they're picking up every single ball,” Shuttleworth said. “We're sending guys forward, so we're leaving huge gaps between the midfield and the back line. They're just putting everything forward and picking up everything behind there.”
Columbus' ability to exploit the Revolution's persistent weakness in transition contributed to another rough night for the home team and left Nicol to lament his side's inability to rectify the issue.
“We haven't done it well all season,” Nicol said. “We can't just turn around tonight and say that we have a problem with it. We haven't done it well all season.”