FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Four days ago, the New England Revolution released the unfortunate news that star forward Taylor Twellman had suffered a setback in his quest to return from the head injury he suffered almost two years ago. He was subsequently placed on the season-ending injury list, ending his hopes of taking the field in 2010.
In a frustrating 1-0 loss to the Chicago Fire on Sunday night, it became apparent just what Twellman’s absence means to this team.
The Revs certainly could’ve used Twellman’s expertise in front of goal – the 30-year-old leads the Revolution with 101 career regular-season tallies – as they outshot Chicago by a margin of 22-13 but couldn’t find the back of the net. While the sides traded chances in the opening 45 minutes, New England was by far the more attack-minded team in the second half while the visitors defended their lead and tried to hit on the counter. Yet despite their superiority in terms of possession, the Revs never seriously turned their pressure into quality scoring chances.
According to head coach Steve Nicol, that lack of class in the attacking third is precisely what prevented the Revolution from obtaining a result on Sunday night.
“The effort, the endeavor, the spirit – you can’t fault that,” said Nicol. “But in the final third we just don’t have the quality required. Tonight, it stares you in the face. The final third – whether it’s the final ball, whether it’s the finish – we had some chances. Zack (Schilawski) had his header, probably should’ve scored. Sainey (Nyassi) scuffed a ball wide from the middle of the goal on a free shot at goal. Kheli (Dube) had a chance with a ball in the box. Taking chances like that change the game. You can’t fault the effort and the commitment, but the quality at the end is just not there.”
Most notable among the Revolution’s scoring chances were a pair of headers from Schilawski, the club’s leading scorer with five goals on the season. His first effort, in the 24th minute, drifted wide of the left post, while his second attempt in the 36th minute flew over the bar. The wastefulness was out of character for the young striker, who had scored his five goals on just 11 shots entering Sunday night’s match.
While the Revs couldn’t find the finishing touch in the attacking third, it was one mental letdown on the other side of the ball that led to Chicago’s only goal. Guatemalan midfielder Marco Pappa was allowed too much space to set up a long-range drive in the 30th minute, and his rasping effort left returning goalkeeper Matt Reis no chance.
“The goal was a classic case of what some of our problems are at the moment,” said Nicol. “That goal is so avoidable, it’s frightening. All it takes is a bit of communication to pass a man on, and [Pappa] doesn’t get three days to line it up and bury it.
“It’s a great finish – Matt’s got no chance,” he continued. “But it’s so avoidable with someone opening the trap. We do ourselves again.”
New England’s inability to find an equalizer after conceding midway through the first half was not for lack of inventiveness, as Nicol used all three substitutions and made multiple tactical changes in an attempt to level the score.
The moves began at halftime when Kenny Mansally replaced Zak Boggs at left midfield in a straight swap. Still trailing by a goal in the 62nd minute, the tactical transformation went a step further when Dube – a forward – replaced defender Chris Tierney as the Revs went more offensive with a 3-5-2 formation. When that didn’t provide an equalizer, Nicol opted for one last move by handing an MLS debut to defensive midfielder Jason Griffiths, pushing Shalrie Joseph into a forward position for the final 10 minutes.
“It was an act of desperation on our part and we tried to pump the ball into the box and create chances, but it just didn’t come for us tonight,” said Joseph of his late switch into an attacking role. “We got one or two chances in the first half to equalize and we didn’t finish, and it comes down to how much we want it right now.”
It won’t get any easier for the Revs in the coming weeks, as their next two matches present a road trip to face Real Salt Lake (5-0-2 at Rio Tinto Stadium) on July 2 and a home match against the LA Galaxy (10-1-3 overall) on July 10.
With the trip to Salt Lake City planned for midweek because of the Friday night kickoff, the recovery for the Revs will have to be swift.
“I think that everyone needs to take responsibility for themselves, myself included,” said midfielder Pat Phelan. “We’re not making a whole lot of mistakes, but we’re making the same mistakes and each person needs to look at themselves. It just can’t happen.”