Tactical shift maximizes strengths of Sene, Feilhaber

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Although the official lineup sheet listed the New England Revolution’s formation as a traditional 4-4-2, there was something a bit different about the club’s alignment in last weekend’s 2-2 draw with Seattle Sounders FC.

Instead of lining up alongside Blake Brettschneider as a second forward – as he’d done throughout the season – Saer Sene slid wide to the right in a formation resembling a cross between a 4-5-1 and a 4-3-3. The tactical shift allowed Benny Feilhaber to push into a central attacking role ahead of Shalrie Joseph and Clyde Simms.

The move was designed partially to pull Sene away from Seattle’s center backs and allow the creative attacker a chance to work with a bit more breathing room.

“It was more to open it up so Saer didn’t have to get a knee up his back all the time, and to get into a spot offensively,” said head coach Jay Heaps. “(Defensively) it was Saer’s job to take the outside back and (right back) Flo (Lechner) was to cover the … wide midfielder. But I thought that, tactically, things were going our way.”

It wasn’t an altogether unfamiliar position for Sene, who capitalized on the switch by scoring his eighth goal of the season in the 12th minute but missed on two other quality chances inside the box. One of the primary benefits of Sene playing wide right is the 6-foot-3 attacker’s ability to cut inside on his more dominant left foot.

“Today we played with one striker and I played on the right side,” said Sene. “This is a position I feel good on my left foot. This is not new for me. But we do it well … I have a lot of options. I can go inside or play my right back. I feel good in this position and we’ll see next game.”

The other notable benefit of Saturday’s formation is Feilhaber’s presence in the middle of the field, where the crafty playmaker operates more comfortably than out wide. Feilhaber essentially played as the point in a three-man midfield triangle, with Joseph and Simms picking up defensive positions behind him. Not only did the central positioning suit Feilhaber offensively, but the help from Joseph and Simms eased his defensive burden.

“It also had a lot to do with (Osvaldo) Alonso,” Heaps said of the Sounders’ commanding central midfielder. “You’ve got to give respect where respect’s due. Alonso is a good midfielder and he basically plays the position of two players out there. And they can lean on him. So we didn’t want Benny to go man-on-man with him and have to defend Alonso going forward and back. So we went with two defensive midfielders, allowing Benny to be where he was and free to get the ball.”

Feilhaber was pleased with the early returns from the new formation – the Revs held a 60-40 advantage in the possession department and completed 509 passes to the Sounders’ 337 – but still sees room for improvement should the Revolution continue with the system moving forward.

“It’s always tough to incorporate a new system perfectly,” said Feilhaber. “It was a good system for us. It allowed me a little bit more freedom and Lee (Nguyen) had some more freedom to go forward as Shalrie and Clyde were able to manhandle the midfield in there.

“So it was good in that sense, but there are some things we can tinker with to try to make it a little bit better,” Feilhaber added. “We’re happy with what it gave us and looking forward I think it’s something we can build on to really tactically possess the ball more against the bigger and better teams.”