SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Jay Heaps wanted to use Saturday night’s season opener against the San Jose Earthquakes to introduce a new possession-based approach, but instead his New England Revolution side was lured into attempting to match San Jose’s more robust, direct style.
The end result was a defensive struggle which featured just two shots on target – one for each side – but the Earthquakes made their lone opportunity count as the usual suspect Chris Wondolowski capitalized on a turnover in the 15th minute, lifting the home side to a 1-0 victory.
“Unfortunately, we played their game a little bit,” Heaps admitted. “We got sucked into it. They’re a strong, direct team. They play through (Steven) Lenhart, they play through [Wondolowski]. The game never got settled for us.”
One of the primary beneficiaries of Heaps’ desired short passing game is creative midfielder Benny Feilhaber, whose effectiveness was limited in the more direct approach employed last season. Feilhaber is confident a more fluid style will develop as the season progresses.
“[Coach] wants us to play a pass-and-move game, and not so much the direct game,” said Feilhaber. “That falls in perfectly for me, Kelyn (Rowe) and Shalrie (Joseph), and a lot of those guys in the midfield that want to get the ball at their feet and play it. I think that will help us this year. Obviously, it didn’t come off as well as we would have liked in this first game.”
Despite rolling out a makeshift backline which featured Stephen McCarthy making his first career start at center back and A.J. Soares filling in out of position at left back, the Revs did well to limit the Earthquakes offensively. McCarthy dueled with Lenhart for much of the match, while Wondolowski was kept quiet for the large majority of the 90 minutes.
Unfortunately, one costly mistake in midfield provided San Jose’s only clear-cut chance and Wondolowski made no mistake with his breakaway effort.
“Their opportunities came a lot off of loose balls, loose passes and midfield players giving the ball up,” said Feilhaber. “Those things, we have to eliminate.”
The Revs will aim to eliminate those types of mistakes next weekend when they head to LIVESTRONG Sporting Park to face Sporting Kansas City. It’ll be the Revolution’s second straight road match to start the season and is part of a stretch which sees the club open the year with five of its first seven games away from home.
“There are things that we need to work on and there are still bits that we’re learning to improve on from last year,” said Feilhaber. “We’ll do better next game. That’s where we’re at right now.”