FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – The absences of Ryan Guy and Clyde Simms from last Saturday's 2-0 win over Chicago forced New England coach Jay Heaps to turn to the one central midfield pairing he had skipped around for much of the season.
And the reunion of Benny Feilhaber and Shalrie Joseph – a tandem first revived in D.C. a week earlier after Guy's first-half calf injury – seemed to work out just fine.
“It was a good balance,” Heaps told MLSsoccer.com after the match. “We asked a lot of [Joseph] defensively. It’s a position in the last couple of years, Shalrie has done a lot of forward and back, forward and back and tonight we wanted more side-to-side, moving and plugging the holes.”
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That particular role fell to Simms for much of the season and to Guy for just over a game before injuries knocked them both out of the lineup. Simms' consistency essentially mandated his place in central midfield, but his bout with left ankle tendonitis eventually opened the door for Feilhaber and Joseph to renew a partnership first forged last season.
Revolution coach Heaps said it took the experienced duo a little bit of time to sort out the right balance – Joseph, over the years, has pushed forward more regularly out of necessity and that proclivity can leave the Revs exposed defensively in this setup – against the Fire.
“Offensively, sometimes they were a little tight to each other, and that was one of the corrections we made at halftime,” Heaps said. “We wanted their spacing a little better offensively. And in the second half, Benny was a little more free and Shalrie was a little more deep, and that’s what allowed Benny and Kelyn [Rowe] to find those pockets and channels.”
Feilhaber thrives on that sort of freedom. The natural playmaker usually operates on the left side of midfield for the Revs, but he often drifts into the middle to find the game and inject his qualities into it. As one might expect, he reveled in the chance to play more centrally.
“I thought it was good,” Feilhaber said. “I haven’t been in [central midfield] in awhile. It’s my most comfortable spot and me and Shalrie have played plenty together with last year and all, so I think we fell into it pretty quickly. I know where he wants to get the ball, he knows where I want to get the ball and he gets me the ball where I want it. It’s really nice playing with him and it didn’t take that much time to get back into it.”
The collective performance – including Feilhaber's first goal and first assist of the season – may give Heaps plenty to think about as he starts to prepare for Columbus' visit next weekend. Simms could enter the reckoning if he returns to training as planned this week, but Heaps noted that Feilhaber showed enough to keep his partnership with Joseph on the table as well.
“Benny’s going to drift to the middle no matter where you put him on the sheet,” Heaps said. “I joke about changing his number to number 10 and playing him anywhere we want, but I think that it’s good. Benny forces your coach to make decisions and you love that when you’re a coach – when you have to make sure a guy goes out there and performs when he plays a position when he’s comfortable. And certainly, Benny showed he wants to be in the mix.”