FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – In football stadiums around the country, it’s not uncommon to see the grass worn down through the center of the field between the hash marks, where much of the rough-and-tumble takes place.
Taking a look at the Gillette Stadium field on Monday morning, however, it was half-surprising not to see noticeable impressions left up and down the flanks.
After all, that’s where the majority of the action was on Saturday night during the Revolution’s convincing 4-1 win over Toronto FC. Right midfielder Sainey Nyassi and his counterpart on the left side, Chris Tierney, consistently troubled the Toronto backline with a combination of speed and guile, and it was clever wing-play which directly led to two of New England’s four goals.
“I think getting the ball wide was always going to be huge for us,” said head coach Steve Nicol about the Revolution’s approach against TFC. “The very first attack of the whole game we got it wide and caused them trouble.”
The trend of spreading the ball to the flanks continued throughout the first half and into the second, when the consistent pressure finally paid dividends with four goals in a hectic 19-minute span.
While two of the Revolution’s goals were opportunistic strikes following defensive miscues by the Toronto backline, the other two were well-worked goals down the right wing.
Nyassi linked up with forward Kheli Dube to set up the game-tying goal in the 47th minute, when a quick one-two set Nyassi free into the right corner. His driven cross through the six yard box found rookie Zack Schilawski open at the back post for the first of his three goals.
Schilawski was the beneficiary of another attack down the right wing in the 58th minute, finishing off Dube’s curling cross after Shalrie Joseph’s killer through ball began the move.
“That was the focus at halftime: get balls in the box and get on the end of those,” Schilawski said. “As a striker, you’ve got to take that to heart and the second half, that’s what was on my mind. Two great balls as far as weight and placement made it easy for me.”
There seemed to be particular focus paid to the right side of the field, where the speedy Nyassi was lined up against TFC left back Raivis Hscanovics. The Latvian defender was signed midweek as an immediate replacement for Jim Brennan, who retired 10 days after Toronto’s season opener to take a position in the club’s front office.
Nyassi was well-prepared for the matchup, noting that he was aware Hscanovics had just recently arrived in the United States.
“I knew I can beat him, he’s a new guy in the league,” Nyassi said confidently after the game. “I think he landed like two days ago, so he must be a little tired, so I decided to just go at him.”
It’s that type of confidence to go at defenders which has led directly to some of Nyassi’s best performances in his three-year tenure with the Revs.
Just 18 years old when he signed with the club late in the 2007 season, the Gambia international has blossomed during his time in New England and is beginning to show his abilities on a more consistent basis. Now 21 years old, there seems to be no limit to Nyassi’s effectiveness when all cylinders are clicking.
“Sainey’s talent is unbelievable,” said Joseph, who made his 2010 debut against TFC after returning from a right hip flexor strain. “It’s just a matter of when he’s going to start putting that stuff together. Him and Kenny (Mansally), they are going to be unbelievable to watch.”
While Joseph spoke of Nyassi’s limitless potential, Nyassi gave much of the credit for his performance back to Joseph, who consistently sprayed the ball wide to both the left and right wings.
“We got Shalrie back, he always knows to play the ball wide,” he said. “That’s what I want, to get more balls wide.”
With a visit to the west coast to face the San Jose Earthquakes up next on Saturday, April 17, perhaps the grounds crew at Buck Shaw Stadium should prepare for some extra activity near the sidelines.