FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – In the aftermath of last weekend’s scoreless draw with the Colorado Rapids, New England Revolution players and coaches tried to focus on the positives.
Despite being shut out for the fourth time in their last five league games – an issue head coach Steve Nicol aims to rectify in part by searching for a creative attacking player in the next transfer window – the Revs showed significant improvement in several facets of the game. Unlike the disjointed effort put forth in a 3-0 loss to Chivas USA the previous weekend, the Revs were strong in possession against Colorado and defended well en route to their first clean sheet of the season.
“Any time you can come out of a game with a clean sheet, that’s absolutely a positive,” said assistant coach Stephen Myles after Tuesday morning’s rain-soaked training session at Gillette Stadium. “I thought we restricted [the Rapids] to long-range opportunities, which is something we’ve not done.”
Much of the resolute defensive performance can be attributed to a solid showing from the backline – featuring stand-ins Ryan Cochrane and Chris Tierney for the injured Franco Coria (L knee sprain) and Didier Domi (L quad strain) – but perhaps the biggest factor in the Revolution’s shutout had little to do with defending.
Bolstered by the addition of central midfielder Ousmane Dabo, the Revs were calm in possession and dictated the pace of the game, particularly in the second half as they pushed for a game-winning goal. With the Revolution controlling the tempo, the club’s backline didn’t experience the consistent pressure it had in recent weeks.
“I think in terms of possession, we probably looked the best we’ve looked all year,” said Cochrane. “I think we kept the ball pretty well and moved it around.
“When you’re not chasing the game for 90 minutes or large stretches at a time, you’re able to kind of keep your wind and the game feels more settled,” he continued. “If you look at the game, I don’t think they had a lot of great chances.”
While the Revs lacked patience in recent weeks – often searching for the decisive pass to unlock the opposition without allowing the play to develop – they displayed a sense of comfort and confidence against the Rapids as they made use of the time and space provided.
According to Dabo’s teammates and coaches, the former France National Team midfielder was the key in that transformation as he used simple passes to keep the ball moving.
“Dabo was a good calming presence in there and I think inserting him really in itself made a huge difference,” said Cochrane. “He was a really good link man for the defenders and obviously it made [the backline’s] job much easier having a lot of the possession.”
Unfortunately, Dabo finds himself back in the treatment room after suffering a right adductor strain during Tuesday’s training session. He’s listed as “Out” on the Revolution’s injury report and appears unlikely to feature in this weekend’s meeting with the expansion Vancouver Whitecaps.
Still, the Revs will have to push forward and try to replicate their possession-oriented performance against Vancouver while simultaneously sharpening their decisiveness in front of goal.
“If you have the ball and you’re not giving it away cheaply, then you’re going to limit the amount of opportunities the other team has,” said goalkeeper Matt Reis, who returned from a left shoulder sprain to collect his 60th career shutout against Colorado. “That’s what we’re trying to do. Now we just have to find that bit of class in the final third.”