The 32-year-old designated player, who was acquired by the club via league draw last Sunday, entered in the 65th minute of Saturday’s 3-0 win over Toronto and, like a seasoned pro, took it all in stride.
“I was happy to be back on the pitch, and it’s always nice to play in stadiums like here,” Jones told the media after the match. “It’s a nice stadium in Toronto, and I try to take everything (in). I was happy to get some minutes on the pitch; it’s always good when you get minutes in.”
Jones’s status for Saturday’s contest appeared to be in the air during his introductory press conference on Tuesday. While he expressed his desire to play as soon as possible, the fact that the veteran midfielder hadn’t played since the United States’ Round of 16 contest against Belgium on July 1 suggested he might need a couple of weeks to regain his match fitness.
In the days leading up to Saturday’s clash, Jones said that he and coach Jay Heaps discussed a “step-by-step” plan that would allow him to return to game action and help the Revolution in its playoff push.
That plan, however, didn’t appear particularly conservative even before the first whistle. With only a handful of training sessions under his belt, Jones not only made the game-day roster, but he was tapped as the team’s first substitute when Daigo Kobayashi exited the game just after the hour.
“Jermaine has been excellent around his team, and around our group,” Revolution coach Jay Heaps told the media after the match, “and we wanted to get him in there and kind of build it in with the training sessions.”
While putting his prized midfielder into the match appeared to be a given after the Revolution racked up a trio of goals by the 58th minute, Heaps admitted that Jones’ cameo didn’t go exactly as planned.
“For us, it’s about fitness,” Heaps said about Jones’ ability to contribute. “Unfortunately, when he went into the game, we were trying to keep it a little bit more, and didn’t, so he got a little extra fitness in.”
Aside from the extra work Jones put in with Toronto tipping the possession scale in their favor, Saturday’s debut couldn’t have gone smoother. Not only did his new club claim a convincing win over a conference opponent, but Jones appeared to genuinely enjoy himself even before he entered the match.
“I was happy on the bench with the boys,” Jones said. “They played a good game, it was 3-0 (for us), so it was easy to come in, and I was happy that I came back on the pitch.”
And with good reason. Nearly two full months had passed since his last action, and with plenty of expectations placed on his shoulders, the U.S. international spoke about his eagerness to aid the club’s cause down the stretch.
“It was a long break for me and I can feel it, yeah,” Jones admitted. “I need (more) time on the pitch, of course. But step-by-step, today was 25 minutes, and maybe next game, (it’ll be) a little bit longer. I will try my best to be fast (in getting to) 100 percent.”
Nguyen struck his team-leading 10th goal of the season in the second minute, while Kelyn Rowe blasted a shot from distance in the 21st minute to secure his second goal of the season. Teal Bunbury piled it on with his third goal of the season in the 58th minute.
Jones, who was acquired by the club last weekend, made his first appearance for the Revolution in the 65th minute when he came on for Daigo Kobayashi. The U.S. national team member completed 79 percent of his passes during his second-half cameo.
Saturday's win extended the Revolution's recent unbeaten run to three straight (2-0-1), and allowed them to improve their mark to 10-12-3 (33 points). On the other side of the scoreboard, Toronto saw their fortunes sink for the second straight game (0-1-1), and watched their record drop to 9-9-6 (33 points).
What it means: In the days leading up to Saturday's conference showdown, the Revolution emphasized the need to grind out results down the stretch. But that idea seemed to take a backseat inside of two minutes thanks to a low liner from Nguyen that ended up in the back of the net. From there, it appeared that the guests would have to bunker in and clog the lanes to hold on to their slim margin. That was until Rowe's 21st-minute rocket, which gave the Revolution their first multiple-goal lead since July 30. Bunbury's open-net effort early in the second cinched it to give the Revolution one of their most impressive wins of the season. It may be too early to definitively deem their summertime struggles a relic, but Saturday's performance is a considerable step in the right direction.
Stat of the match: Lee Nguyen's second-minute strike was the quickest goal scored by the Revolution this season. Prior to Saturday, a 10th-minute goal against Colorado on July 30 served as the earliest strike seen this season. The goalscorer on that one? None other than Nguyen.
Scoreboard watch: The three points collected north of the border put the Revolution in a three-way tie for third-place along with Toronto and Columbus, all of whom sit at 33 points.
Road success a long time coming: Saturday's win was the first measure of success the Revolution secured on the road since a 5-3 victory over the Union at PPL Park. Prior to the win over the Reds, the Revolution went 0-5-0 in their last five road tilts, and were outscored by a combined score of 13-3.
Lineup changes: Coach Jay Heaps made one change the Revolution lineup on Saturday, with Teal Bunbury returning to the XI to fill the right-sided midfielder's spot. With Bunbury back in the lineup, Diego Fagundez started the match on the bench for the second time in the team's last four contests.
Caldwell to miss next match: Revolution midfielder Scott Caldwell collected a 47th-minute caution for his tactical foul on Dominic Oduro. As a result of the booking, Caldwell, who entered the match on yellow card watch, will be forced to sit out the Revolution's midweek tilt against Sporting Kansas City on Wednesday.
Next up: It'll be a short turnaround for the Revolution following their road triumph in Toronto as they prepare for second-place Sporting Kansas City on Wednesday at Gillette Stadium. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. The Revolution staked a 2-0 win over Kansas City on April 26.
It's uncertain whether Jones, the club's most expensive addition ($4.7 million over 18 months) to date, will be ready to go for Saturday's clash. The 32-year-old midfielder is nearly two full months removed from his last meaningful match, the United States' 2-1 loss to Belgium in the round of 16 at the World Cup on July 1.
Regardless, the sixth-place Revolution enter the Labor Day weekend with renewed confidence thanks to a 1-0 win over Chivas USA last week. While it won't go down as the most impressive victory of the season, the three points they pocketed could put their recent struggles behind them and, with improved form, possibly spur a late-season run similar to the one seen last year.
One team that's not looking to reprise any scenes from 2013 is Toronto, who find themselves above the red line this late in the season for the first time in club history. Thanks to a revamped roster that's finally starting to find its form, the third-place Reds have gone unbeaten in four of their last five. But last weekend, they were forced to settle for a disappointing 2-2 draw to Chicago, a result they'd surely like to put behind them on Saturday.
With only three points separating the Revolution and Reds, here's what to watch for on Saturday.
• Revs' confidence restored. Beating one of the worst teams in the league at home by only a single goal may not look great on paper, but don't tell that to midfielder Kelyn Rowe. The third-year midfielder, who assisted on the goal against Chivas USA, pointed out a number of positives during Thursday's media scrum. Among them: the stellar play of Bobby Shuttleworth, who made a couple of heady saves, as well as Scott Caldwell, who completed 88 percent of his passes.
"It's good to have that confidence again, going in 1-0, and we can still grind this out and get a win," Rowe told the media on Thursday. "But obviously, we want a [few] more."
• Can Charlie Davies get back on the score sheet? Last week's match marked the first time in four weeks that the club's most potent weapon of late didn't factor into the scoring. Davies, who collected two goals and an assist in the weeks leading up to the Chivas USA clash, may not have extended his point streak, but he wasn't a complete nonfactor. He completed 89 percent of his passes and drew four fouls around the area, creating a couple of dangerous set-piece opportunities. Although Toronto isn't likely to give Davies much space to operate, his ability to link with teammates may give him the opportunity to pick up his second assist of the season.
• Team defense key against counterattacking Reds. Much like Chivas USA, Toronto lives and dies by the counterattack. For proof of that, one need only look at its overall possession number: 45.2 percent, which ranks 17th in all of MLS. But a team that catches its opponent off guard can often be more dangerous than a squad that holds the ball with greater frequency. Central midfielder Michael Bradley is one of the best at reading opponents' weaknesses, and his well-timed passes have sprung countless opportunities for his teammates. In light of that, the Revolution have to remain on high alert for the entire 90.
"It's just going to come down to when we get on the field," Revolution center back AJ Soares said Thursday. "Do we execute? Do we make little plays here and there? And do we take every play seriously, and not turn off at all? If we do those things, we should be fine."
• Road form must improve. If the Revolution harbor any hopes of springing another late-season run toward the postseason, one of their first orders of business is simply performing better on the road. They've not only lost five straight away from Gillette Stadium since mid-May, but they've been outscored 13-3 during that span.
So where do the Revolution start? As a defender, Andrew Farrell may be biased, but he recently told the media that a team always gives itself a chance to win by keeping its opponent off the board. To that end, look for the Revolution to key in on defense down the stretch, especially on the road, where points always come at a greater premium.
• Expect a gritty, no-frills kind of game. Saturday's contest isn't likely to be a reminder of why soccer is often called "the beautiful game." In fact, the way Farrell tells it, beauty will be in short supply with two conference foes fighting for playoff spots down the stretch. While the Reds may hold a three-point advantage in the standings with a game in hand over the Revolution, the sophomore fullback believes both sides will be looking to grind out a result.
"[Toronto] has to make sure they get all the points they can, so it's going to be a gritty game," Farrell sad. "I think it's going to be a tough battle, but I'm excited, and the guys are excited to take on a good Toronto FC team."
Jones, who was acquired by the Revolution on Sunday, was asked what he was looking forward to the most about joining his new team. In his distinct German accent, the 32-year-old midfielder spoke about what it means to be part of the group coached by Jay Heaps, and how much he wants to join his teammates both on and off the pitch.
“I just loved the way he answered the question about wanting to be around the group,” Heaps said afterward. “He answered it the way in which a coach wants to see, and his presence on the field is going to give us a huge lift.”
That’s certainly what the coaching staff and brain trust are banking on after reportedly cutting a check for $4.7 million over 18 months to secure the services of the U.S. International.
Jones' arrival comes as the Revolution try to pull themselves out of a stretch in which they’ve won only twice in their last 12 games. And it’s been no secret that the team’s performance in the middle of the park has been a primary cause of their summertime struggles.
While their possession percentage has risen to nearly 50 percent in recent weeks, it’s clear that the Revolution have lacked the physicality to punish their opponents. As a result, talented teams like New York and Salt Lake have run clear through the middle of the field virtually without issue.
That trend should change once Jones dons the Revolution uniform for the first time. While the former Schalke 04 mainstay spoke about his desire to play in Saturday’s match at Toronto, he knows that he may have to wait. His last meaningful minutes came nearly two months ago during the World Cup.
“I would be lying if I said I am 100 percent,” Jones said. “[But] anyone who knows me knows I will do everything I can to help this team. Maybe I won’t start from the beginning; maybe I’ll be on the bench. I’m the guy who always wants to be around the team.”
Although it appears that Jones’ primary responsibility will be to stabilize the defense and thwart the opposition in the middle third, Heaps said he’d also like to see the veteran midfielder contribute across the pitch.
“I think there are a lot of different roles within that center midfield that we see him playing,” Heaps said. “Tactically, we can change the way in which we pivot the triangle. He plays a lot of those roles.”
Heaps also alluded to the idea that Jones’ addition won’t mean a change in philosophy as the Revolution approach the final 10 weeks of the regular season.
“He fits exactly what we were looking for in a ball-winning midfielder,” Heaps said. "[He has] a great presence in there, and so our philosophy stays the same in how we want to coach the team. Now we feel that we have a really big piece of the puzzle, right down the spine.”
The rare combination of world-class technique, tactical sense and toughness that Jones brings to the fledgling squad is, of course, the primary reason why ownership paid a princely sum for him to play in Foxborough. But Jones also expects to take on a leadership role.
“We have a young team, so maybe sometimes I may have to kick a guy in the [butt],” Jones said, with a laugh. “But only in a good way. Anyone who knows me knows I like to win, and I will try everything I can to get some wins.”
But less than 48 hours after the New England Revolution acquired U.S. Men’s National Team midfielder Jermaine Jones, the scene at the club’s training session on Tuesday was far from ordinary.
“Everyone’s really excited and buzzing because of what he adds to our team,” Revolution striker Charlie Davies said following training. “I think everybody knows what a great pickup that is, and how instrumental he’ll be for this club.”
Jones, who comes to the Revolution fresh off an impressive World Cup campaign, trained with his new club for the first time on Tuesday. Sporting bright orange boots and his trademark dreadlocks, the 32-year-old midfielder participated in short-sided scrimmages and passing drills while a small pack of cameras caught the action.
Of course, what Jones does in training isn’t nearly as important as what the Revolution will need from him once he’s game fit. As a player who’s never met a tackle he didn’t like, the former Schalke 04 star is expected to give the Revolution more bite in the middle of the park.
“I think everybody knows that we play a great style of soccer,” Davies said. “We keep it well and having that edge in the midfield will be, I think, the X-factor that we’re kind of missing.”
Should coach Jay Heaps stick with the standard 4-1-4-1 formation with Jones in tow, the U.S. international is expected to pair centrally with Lee Nguyen and Scott Caldwell. With two creative players flanking him, Jones will likely be asked to devote much of his energies to the defense, where the club hasn’t played to the level it approached during last season’s third-place finish.
But as effectively as Jones has shown himself in the six spot, Davies believes his new teammate will also help the offense, as well.
“I sure am very excited (about the signing),” Davies said. “It just really helps me out with a lot of space, having more space, which will be nice.”
Of course, it’s too early to tell what kind of impact Jones will have on the Revolution’s fortunes with only 10 matches remaining in the regular season. The club currently sits outside the playoff picture in sixth place. But with only 13 points separating the Revs from the top of the table, Jones will surely be counted upon to pilot the squad to a second straight trip to the postseason.
Although Jones has yet to make his official debut, it’s already clear that his impact on the team has been nothing but positive.
“It gives us a huge energy boost,” Davies said. “If this doesn’t excite you, then there’s something wrong with you. We’re all looking forward to having him join us on the field as soon as possible.”
Castillion, who came up through the famed Ajax Youth Academy, was acquired by the club a day after they added U.S. Men’s National Team regular Jermaine Jones. The 23-year-old forward was most recently on loan to Dutch Eredivisie side NEC Nijmegen from Ajax. He will be officially added to the roster upon receipt of his P1-Visa and International Transfer Certificate.
“Geoffrey is a big, strong target forward with several years of experience in the Dutch first division,” Revolution general manager Michael Burns said in a club release on Monday. “He will add a different dynamic to our attack and also give us more options up front. Once he finalizes the immigration process, we’re looking forward to getting him right into training.”
The 6-3, 170 lbs. striker comes to Foxborough following a season in which he split time with Ajax’s reserves and NEC Nijmegen. During the first half of the 2013-14 season, he played in six contests for the Ajax reserves and tallied once before he was loaned to Nijmegen for the latter half of the season. Once there, he scored twice in nine appearances across all competitions, including the Dutch Cup quarterfinals and semifinals.
Castillion kicked off his pro career in March 2011 with Ajax, and was subsequently loaned to Eredivisie side RKC Waalwijk the following season. He scored seven times in 33 matches for Waalwijk, who finished ninth in their first season following their promotion from Eerste Divisie.
The striker’s stay with the fledgling side proved to be a short one, though, as he was loaned to Heracles Almelo for the 2012-13 season. In 33 appearances, he collected four goals for the club’s first team, but amassed 13 goals in 12 games for the club’s reserves during the same season.
In addition to his club career, Castillion has also featured with the Netherlands at the youth international level. He was a member of the Dutch side that advanced to the semifinals of the 2008 UEFA Youth U-17 championship, a tournament in which he scored two goals for his country.
Castillion will occupy an international roster spot, and will wear number 39.
Jones, 33, is en route to Foxborough after the league conducted a blind draw between the Revolution and the Chicago Fire for the former Schalke 04 and current U.S. national team midfielder’s services.
“I’m very excited to come to MLS and join the Revolution,” Jones said in a statement. “New England is an exciting team on the rise, and I believe I can come in and help the team make a push toward MLS Cup. Playing with the U.S. National Team has given me a great connection with the American fans and I’m looking forward to playing in front of them every weekend. I’m ready to get started with the Revs.”
Terms of the deal, which made Jones a designated player signing, were not disclosed, per MLS and club rules. However, ESPN analyst Alexi Lalas reported on Sunday that the deal is worth $4.7 million for 1 1/2 years.
The 14-year veteran has spent the bulk of his career in the German Bundesliga, where he made his name as a gritty, yet technically gifted central midfielder. He most recently played for Turkish side Besiktas before expressing his desire to play in MLS.
At the international level, Jones has earned 43 caps with the United States, scoring three goals -- the most memorable being the blast he uncorked against Portugal during the 2014 World Cup. He was a member of Germany’s youth national teams, but a recent change to FIFA’s rules allowed the Frankfurt-born midfielder the opportunity to make a one-time switch to the U.S., where his father is from.
Jones will join a side in desperate need of a midfield general after starting defensive midfielder Andy Dorman suffered an MCL sprain last month, an injury that is likely to keep him out through September. Scott Caldwell and A.J. Soares both have manned the six spot in Dorman’s absence, but neither has been able to fortify a midfield unit that has struggled to hold the ball in recent weeks.
But the team’s struggles haven’t been limited to the possession scale. Over the course of their recent slide -- which has seen the team triumph only twice in its last 12 games -- the Revolution have averaged less than a goal per game (0.92). Jones’ ability to thread high-quality passes should allow the likes of Charlie Davies, Kelyn Rowe and Diego Fagundez to rejuvenate their form.
Of course, the world-class skills that Jones brings to the pitch only tell part of the story. Although he’s noted for collecting the occasional caution, the veteran midfielder brings leadership that the team certainly could use down the stretch. In a sense, Dorman’s injury was a one-two punch to the Revolution not only because of his solid play, but because of his ability to organize and rally his younger teammates.
“This is a great opportunity for us to add one of the best players in the United States to our club,” Revolution investor/operator Jonathan Kraft said in a statement. “We thought Jermaine was the best player for the U.S. in the World Cup and we are excited to welcome him to New England. When we learned that he was interested in signing with MLS, we immediately informed the league of our interest. He is a dynamic player and is certain to have a tremendous impact on our team and in our community.”
The Revolution currently sit in sixth place in the East with 30 points, one point short of making the playoffs. With Jones on board, the Revolution become an immediate favorite to book their ticket to the postseason for the second straight year.
The hosts not only held the better of the possession (67.8 percent), but connected on 85.6 percent of their passes as well. And yet, they marched into the locker room at the break with the scoreboard completely unblemished, much to their dismay.
But after coach Jay Heaps called upon his players to make the appropriate adjustments, the Revolution were able to finally break through in the 56th minute to grab a 1-0 win on Saturday.
"We had our way with the ball, but it just wasn't penetrating, so that was our adjustment at halftime," Heaps said. "One of things that we wanted to do was more penetration and more runs that were a little bit riskier, and if we didn't get that ball, we wanted to jump on them."
The fact that the Revolution encountered difficulties getting through the Chivas defense came as no surprise, of course. The Goats entered the match winless in their last five, and were looking to do nothing more than stifle their hosts with the hope of grinding out a result.
However, even though they managed to clog up the middle of the pitch, a couple of opportunities fell to the Revolution during the first half.
Lee Nguyen chipped a pass over to Charlie Davies, who broke free of his defender but was beat to the ball by keeper Dan Kennedy in the third minute. Later in the half, it was Nguyen who pierced the backline and fired an open shot that lodged itself in the side netting during the 36th minute.
Sensing the need to stretch the Chivas defense, Heaps implored his players to play the ball east-to-west. In order to do so, he asked fullbacks Darrius Barnes and Andrew Farrell to not only make forays forward, but to alternate those runs in order to ensure that there was still cover behind.
The adjustment worked to perfection not long after they returned to the pitch after halftime. And with Chivas sticking to their script, the Revolution put their guest to the test.
With the ball firmly in their possession, Diego Fagundez played a long pass wide to Kelyn Rowe, who then played a give-and-go pass with Daigo Kobyashi. On the return ball, Rowe put it on the foot of Nguyen, who took a touch and fired a shot that beat Kennedy at the right post in the 56th minute.
The key on the play was Rowe's commitment to create from the wing, a spot where the third-year midfielder hadn't exactly shown himself as a world-beater in the past. Nevertheless, Rowe remained faithful to his assignment, and his efforts paid off at what proved to be the most crucial moment.
"I played there a little bit during my first year, and have a little bit this year, as well," Rowe said. "You just have to stay wide a little (more). I found myself coming in a lot and trying to find the ball, and the guys gave it to me every once in a while. It was good."
But it wasn't exactly clear sailing for the Revolution following Nguyen's blast. While they continued to stay wide, and continued to create problems for Chivas, Bobby Shuttleworth was called upon to make a couple of saves in the latter stages.
While Heaps praised his goalkeeper for preserving the victory -- a much-needed one at that after going winless in 10 of their last 11 -- much of the credit was given to the team-wide effort required to not only recognize the problem, but to execute on the solution.
"I think Chivas came in with a gameplan to really make it difficult for us, and they did," Heaps said. "I think we made a couple of adjustments at halftime, and were able to open them up a little bit."
The club's leading scorer tallied his ninth goal of the season on Saturday to give his squad a 1-0 win over Chivas USA on Saturday at Gillette Stadium.
On the other end of the pitch, Bobby Shuttleworth stopped four shots to collect his sixth clean sheet of the season.
With the win, the Revolution snapped a two-game winless streak (0-1-1), while Chivas USA was left out of the win column for the sixth straight occasion (0-4-2).
What it means: It appeared early on that the usual issues with finishing and final balls would doom the Revolution to another disappointing draw. While they tipped the possession scale at or near 70 percent for much of the night with Chivas digging in and playing for the draw, the best the Revolution could muster was a series of half-chances by the break. But just before the hour mark, Nguyen rescued his teammates when he blasted a shot beyond the reach of Dan Kennedy. While Nguyen got the job done up the pitch, Shuttleworth played particularly well between the sticks, where he made four saves -- two of the acrobatic variety -- to seal the victory for the Revolution.
Stat of the match: Chivas USA came to Foxborough looking to dig in and disrupt the Revolution, and for the most part, succeeded in doing so by outfouling their hosts 20-5.
Scoreboard watch: With the Red Bulls beating the Impact 4-2 on Saturday, the Revolution remain in sixth place in the Eastern Conference.
Two changes to Revs lineup: Revolution coach Jay Heaps made a pair of changes to his lineup from the one the used against Portland last week. Daigo Kobayashi received his first start since a July 19 match at FC Dallas, while Teal Bunbury was relegated to the bench for the first time since a July 4 contest at Real Salt Lake. In the back, Darrius Barnes manned the left fullback's spot in place of an injured Kevin Alston.
Familiar face back in Foxborough: Former Revolution midfielder/defender Tony Lochhead made his first visit to Gillette Stadium on Saturday in more than seven years. Lochhead was drafted by the Revolution in 2005, and collected two assists in 16 games for the local XI in 2006. He was released at the start of the 2007 season, and went on to play in the Australian A-League from 2007-13, and played in the 2010 World Cup for his native New Zealand.
Taylor makes his debut: Newly acquired striker Tony Taylor made his Revolution debut in the 81st minute when he came on for Charlie Davies. The former U.S. U-20 star completed all three of the passes he made off the bench in his MLS debut.
Heading north of the border: The Revolution will journey north to BMO Field on Saturday, Aug. 30 to face Toronto FC for the second time this season. Kickoff is set for 5 p.m. ET. In their initial encounter, the Revolution staked a 2-1 comeback win over the Reds at BMO Field on May 3.
If the above is true, we may learn plenty about whether the New England Revolution (8-12-3, 27 points) truly have what it takes to make a postseason run on Saturday when they face a struggling Chivas USA (6-11-6, 24 points) side at Gillette Stadium.
To be fair, the Revolution haven’t played immeasurably better soccer than their success-starved opponent. While they’ve finally shaken the early-deficit hex that haunted them earlier this summer, grabbing the first goal is no longer enough to ensure victory. Up until recently, the Revolution were a perfect 7-for-7 when beating their adversary to the board. But after securing early leads in each of their last three, the Revolution have watched two of them vanish, with the latest occurrence coming in a 1-1 draw to Portland last week.
Although there’s plenty of room for improvement for the local XI, it’s hard to pinpoint where Chivas USA coach Wilmer Cabrera starts with his struggling side. The Goats currently rank at the bottom in a number of key categories, including possession (43.6 percent), pass success percentage (75.2 percent), shots per game (10) and, oh yeah, goals (21). A scoreless draw vs. Vancouver last week offered some hope that all isn’t completely lost, but it’s clear that the postseason isn’t in the cards for Cabrera’s squad this year.
With three points or bust the motto for the Revolution on Saturday, here’s what to watch for when the intra-conference clash kicks off on Saturday night.
-- No need to hit the panic button. Let’s be honest: there are plenty of things the Revolution haven’t done particularly well over the course of the last two-plus months. Team defending hasn’t been great, and goalscoring hasn’t exactly been the club’s forte, either. Despite their struggles, the squad’s plight is far from dire, according to striker Charlie Davies.
“I think we’ve done a great job in moments,” Davies said. “But it’s putting those moments all together for 90 minutes, and I think that’s the big issue at the moment. It’s not like we have a lot of work to do; it’s just little things we need to manage better.”
-- Will Davies’ goalscoring touch remain intact? No one will debate that the offense has hit the doldrums this summer. But one positive development for the attack has been the emergence of Davies, who spent much of the first half of the season overcoming injuries. Now healthy, and playing his preferred position at the tip of the spear, the Boston College alum has scored in each of the last two games. While the rest of the offense needs to do its part to follow suit, especially against a defensively frail Chivas USA, there’s little doubt that Davies will be counted upon to grab the wheel again this week.
-- Tightening it up during a critical timeframe. In each of their last three games, the Revolution have exited the locker room at halftime with a lead. But on two occasions, that lead was gone by the time they returned after conceding in the early stages of the second half. A common remark from coach Jay Heaps is that he likes to see how critical moments unfold on film, but the overhead projector isn’t needed to see that his team needs to tighten up its form between the 46th and 65th minutes.
“In the last two games, we haven’t been good enough in that timeframe,” Heaps told the media on Thursday, “and we’ve lost basically five points during that stretch.”
-- Will another change to the back four expose the Revolution? With Kevin Alston listed on the injury report as questionable, Darrius Barnes will likely get the nod at left back this week. While Barnes is a steady defender who’s proven himself countless times during his career, the move itself would force Heaps to employ his ninth different starting backline group this season. Although Chivas is, by no means, an offensive juggernaut, striker Erick “Cubo” Torres is always a threat. Should the backline fail to gel, it could be a busier evening than expected for the hosts.
-- The best defense is a good offense. For all the talk about defensive lapses costing the Revolution points, the attack’s inability to produce is one of the primary reasons why the squad resides below the red playoff line. While the Revolution have been able to secure first half leads, building upon them has proven to be a difficult task. To that end, midfielder Lee Nguyen recently suggested that protecting the lead isn’t just about playing sound defense.
“You have to keep putting the gas to the pedal,” Nguyen told the media on Thursday. “When we get our chances, we have to put them away, and then basically take the pressure off us as soon as we can.”
After months of working with striker Charlie Davies out on the wing, Heaps finally relented and allowed the Boston College alum to return to his preferred position. The decision, so far, has proven to be a masterstroke.
In his past three games, Davies has scored twice and assisted once, all from the center forward's spot. Coincidence? Not quite, Heaps said.
"I think Charlie's always been a little bit more of a two-striker system," Heaps said. "We've tried to work him in in all three forward positions that we've had, but he feels much more comfortable in the center striker's position with his back to goal, with an attacking player close by."
Of course, the positional tinkering wasn't the only hurdle Davies faced before he started his recent run of good form. A nagging calf injury kept him from contributing during much of the spring, which only made the adjustment to the wing even tougher.
But once Davies was sufficiently healed, two things became evident to Heaps. First, he wasn't getting consistent production from his forwards. Second, Davies was far more confident when slotted in the No. 9 role during training, even if the speedy Davies wasn't exactly a fish out of water out on both wings.
"He understands them, but he's much more comfortable [centrally]," Heaps said. "When Charlie's comfortable, he plays better, and I think that's shown over the last couple of weeks."
Offense 'not far off' from finding rhythm
Speaking of Davies, the club's goal-scoring hero was asked prior to Wednesday's training what the offense needs to improve upon after collecting only eight goals total in its past 10 games.
"I think it's one of those things where we just need to sharpen and just be more clinical in the final third," Davies said. "I think we're not far off. I think it's just that final ball that we haven't been too great at."
Davies' assertion about finishing is bolstered by the contrast of the following two facts: The Revolution are at the top of the league in shots per game but 14th in total goals. Clearly, execution in the final third has not been the team's forte.
Recognizing the need for more offense, the front office recently made a pair of moves to bring in two new faces to the forward corps. Andre Akpan was acquired via trade this past week, while Tony Taylor was added Monday via lottery.
But even though Davies has sharpened the offense, at least for the time being, he isn't concerned about what the moves might signal.
"It really doesn't say anything to me," Davies said. "I'm just glad that it helps with the team's depth. [It] makes trainings better with more competition. At the end of the day, you still have to perform in the games and try and help this team get in the playoffs. So my job doesn't change."
Defense needs improvement, too
While some have pointed to the dry spell the offense has found itself mired in for the Revolution's recent woes, right back Andrew Farrell provided his own take on what needs to improve to turn things around.
Farrell believes that before the attack can find any kind of sustainable success, the defense needs to assert itself early and far more often within the course of 90 minutes.
"I know our offense isn't always getting goals, but you always give yourself a chance when you don't get scored on," Farrell said. "So I think if we step our game up, I think the defensive part will motivate us to get forward and score some goals."
The addition of Taylor marks the second time in the past six days that the club has added a new face to the forward corps after Andre Akpan was brought in via trade last week.
Here are some quick thoughts on Monday’s move:
Long-term potential intriguing. His name certainly doesn’t carry the same cache as, say, that of Jermaine Jones. Even so, the addition of Taylor isn’t your typical, low-risk signing. After all, we’re talking about a player who not only performed well at the U-20 and U-23 levels, but also held his own abroad in Portugal and Cyprus. In 68 career league games in Europe, he’s scored 15 goals, which isn’t bad at all for a player who jumped overseas right out of college. The landscape is littered with hot-shot, can’t-miss college prospects who’ve taken their talents overseas only to fall flat on their face. On paper, Taylor doesn’t appear to be one of them.
Forward corps remains in flux. The addition of Taylor is just the latest in a slew of moves the Revolution have made at an area in which they’re clearly looking for more consistency. Since July, the club has loaned out mercurial forward Jerry Bengtson to Belgrano, given the starting spot to Charlie Davies, demoted Patrick Mullins to the bench, and traded away Saer Sene for Akpan. So far, the results have been mixed. Davies has shown promise by scoring twice and adding an assist over the course of his last three games, and Heaps had praise for Mullins’ performance off the bench in last weekend’s draw to Portland. However, consistency remains an issue. Davies has played well, but his track record of injuries is undoubtedly a concern. The hot streak Mullins found himself in during the spring has cooled. Despite showing potential last season, Imbongo has been, by and large, a disappointment, and could be on borrowed time. Meanwhile, Akpan has only started 10 games over the course of his five-year career. Clearly, the way the 2014 season has unfolded up front has been a far cry from the situation seen last season, which saw Juan Agudelo fill the number 9 spot with nary a problem.
Another big body. Much like Akpan, Taylor is a big-bodied (6 feet, 170 pounds) striker with a touch of pace and a frame similar to that of the aforementioned Agudelo. And, no, that is not a wild coincidence. While Davies and Mullins have both shown themselves as capable at times, neither one of them is a classic, back-to-goal target man. As we saw last year, the club’s 4-1-4-1 formation requires a forward from that mold. A forward that pulls defenders toward him, thus opening the field for creative midfielders like Diego Fagundez, Lee Nguyen and Kelyn Rowe. The Revolution tried to make due with Mullins and, before that, Teal Bunbury as their target men earlier this season. But with the offense stuck in the doldrums for the past two months, it’s obvious that the front office is trying to find a forward with similar qualities to those of Agudelo.
Depth at the forefront of Monday’s move. While Taylor has European experience on his resume, let’s not kid ourselves: He was not brought to New England to single-handedly save the Revolution offense. In fact, general manager Michael Burns said in a club statement that Taylor will “add to the competition already on our team.” In other words, Taylor probably isn’t going to be asked to go on a scoring tear down the stretch. But, if all goes according to plan, the 25-year-old forward could bolster the offense off the bench and, perhaps, get a start or two should Davies need a breather.
Offense still needs immediate help. Taylor’s presence should sharpen the competition up top, which in and of itself isn’t a bad thing. However, the signing alone shouldn’t be the last one the club makes before the roster freeze deadline, which is just less than a month away. The Revolution currently rank second in the league in shots per game (14), but are 14th in goals scored this season. Translation: the Revolution don’t have a pure finisher. In order to get over their current struggles -- a stretch in which they’ve gone winless in 10 of their last 11 -- the Revolution are still going to need help up top. Otherwise, the only order of business for the players and coaches come November might be booking tee times at the local course.
After months of trying to fit the forward into an outside midfielder’s role, the Revolution coaching staff tossed the blueprints and put the poacher back up top earlier this summer. And it's clear that Davies, who scored in each of the last two games, hasn't missed a beat.
“It’s natural to me,” Davies said. “I’ve played forward since I was 6 years old. Whether you’re playing with two or one (forwards), it’s kind of still the same responsibility. You’ve got to score, and you’ve got to hold up the ball.”
Davies didn’t get many opportunities to do either while stationed out on the wing earlier this season. Although injuries kept him on the sidelines for much of the spring, he still found a way to carve out a role, albeit briefly, as a so-called “super sub.”
In a March 29 game at San Jose that was tied at one apiece late, Davies came off the bench and immediately sparked the attack. The Revolution went on to win 2-1 in stoppage time, thanks in part to a heady play in which Davies played a quick pass on a restart moments before Lee Nguyen scored the decider.
But even though the 28-year-old Manchester, N.H., native appeared to be getting comfortable in his new role, Davies still pined for the opportunity to play up top and create havoc for opposing defenses.
“On the wing it’s a little bit different,” Davies said. “Once I was able to get the chance to play in the center, things have been much easier for me. It’s been an easier transition with the guys.”
There’s no doubt that the transition back to striker has paid dividends for Davies. In his second start up top, Davies collected his first assist of the season in a 3-0 win over Colorado. A week later, he followed it up with his first goal of the season against New York. And on Saturday, he added another goal to the ledger in a 1-1 draw against Portland.
“I think Charlie has done an excellent job,” Revolution coach Jay Heaps said. “Tonight again, he was spritely, he was moving well off the ball, holding it up and scored a great goal.”
While Heaps has been impressed with the way his energetic forward has played over the last three games, Davies was quick to credit his teammates for helping him find success that he envisioned when he first joined the club last August.
“I think most of the team knows the way I like to play, and where I’m most dangerous, and playing that center position -- it’s easier for me to be in those positions,” Davies said. “I think it’s easier for the guys to get me those balls in the positions that I’m most dangerous in.”
But for the second straight game, the Revolution threw that early lead into the wastebasket when Timbers defender Liam Ridgewell blazed a trail from deep in the midfield into the box, where he scored a 65th-minute equalizer to send the Revolution to a disappointing 1-1 draw on Saturday.
"It's just lackluster," said defender Darrius Barnes of the sequence in which Ridgewell equalized. "Just, as all-around team effort, it was weak. Their center back shouldn't be able to pick the ball up at midfield, and just slash through the defense like that and get a clear shot like that. It was a very amateur goal [to give up], and it's something that shouldn't happen at this level."
The fact that it did happen was a tell-tale sign of a squad that, in the words of coach Jay Heaps, "stopped playing" in the second half. And the statistics support the coach's point.
In the first half, the Revolution were passing at a 70.9 percent clip, which wasn't stellar by any stretch of the imagination. Even so, it was good enough to allow the offense to press the issue and score in the 27th minute, as Charlie Davies secured his second goal in as many games.
But the second half was an entirely different story. The passing accuracy dipped to 64.3 percent, far below the Revolution's 76.8 percent average on the season. Not surprisingly, the Timbers took advantage by putting together a collection of chances in the early stages of the second half.
"To be honest with you, it wasn't anything as much as they did as it was what we did," said Heaps. "We gave them the ball back, and we had turnovers. We were [at] 67 percent accuracy where it felt like 37 percent. We were giving the ball away unforced, and that's not good enough."
All the mistakes came to a head in the 65th minute in a scene that spoke to the idea that the Revolution let off the gas in the second half.
After Kelyn Rowe gave the ball away in the midfield to Ridgewell, the English defender swerved past Rowe, then left Andrew Farrell in the dust before depositing it past a helpless Bobby Shuttleworth.
"It was a weird play," Rowe said. "It was a ball out of the box, he won it, and two guys, myself included, kind of dove in and he beat both. He's one of those guys you don't expect to rip one far post. And unfortunately we let him, and he did."
And just like that, the lead that the Revolution had worked so hard for in the first half was gone in an instant. A brief but costly lapse.
Of course, there was still plenty of time to retake the lead. With 25 minutes remaining and the home crowd behind New England, the prospect of punching another through wasn't unfathomable.
But the Revolution continued to sabotage their chances. While there were glimmers in the 77th and 78th minutes, when Patrick Mullins and Daigo Kobayashi unearthed opportunities to score the go-ahead goal, the fact is the hosts couldn't sustain the pressure.
"It just wasn't good enough," Barnes said. "We didn't connect the passes, and we weren't playing together and moving off the ball and just weren't enough options out there."
Three points hasn't come easy to the Revolution over the course of the past two months. Saturday's draw marked the 10th time in their past 11 that they've fallen short of grabbing maximum points. Their second-half form may have betrayed them, but they also had ample opportunity to put the game away even earlier.
"We let them back in," Heaps said, "and that's disappointing because when you have a team that you think you can put away, you have to start putting them away, and we had a chance in the first half."
Davies, who scored his first Revolution goal two weeks ago in New York, secured the opening strike on Saturday in the 27th minute. The goal stood until the 65th minute, when Ridgewell, who joined the Timbers in June, scored his first MLS goal.
With the draw, the Revolution are now winless in 10 of their past 11 (1-9-1), while the Timbers have gotten results in four of their past five (3-1-1).
What it means: The hard week of training that the Revolution endured during the bye paid early dividends, but once again, it was team defense that undermined them in the second half. If there was any doubt about the state of the Revolution's defense, just look at the film from Ridgewell's goal. Two players -- Kelyn Rowe and Andrew Farrell -- both had the opportunity to stop Ridgewell in his tracks. But neither was able to thwart the English defender, who raced from the midfield into the box virtually unimpeded before slipping the ball past Bobby Shuttleworth. Say what you will about the Revolution's inability to strengthen the early lead -- which they certainly had opportunities to do. The fact is that the team's collective defense needs to be much sharper down the homestretch if the Revs plan on making another late playoff push this season.
Scoreboard watch: The 1-1 draw keeps the Revolution in sixth place, one point below the red playoff line.
Stat of the match: After starting off the season 7-0-0 when scoring the first goal of the game, the Revolution are now winless in their past two (0-1-1) when beating their opponents to the board.
One change to lineup, and familiar face makes the game-day roster: Coach Jay Heaps made only one change to the lineup he fielded two weeks ago in New York, slotting in Diego Fagundez on the left for Steve Neumann. Perhaps the most notable change to the game-day roster: the inclusion of fan favorite Shalrie Joseph, who was eligible for selection for the first time since the Revolution re-signed him earlier this season. Joseph spent nearly 10 years in New England (2003-2012) before he was traded to Chivas USA midway through the 2010 season.
Early exit for Alston: Kevin Alston's night came to a premature end moments after he injured his right hamstring, which appeared to happen while he was making a recovery run in the 29th minute. Darrius Barnes took over for Alston minutes later at left back. The early exit marked the third time this season that an injury forced Alston out of the game in the first half.
Renewing old acquaintances: Saturday's match marked a mini-reunion for a handful of former Akron Zips. Among those in attendance: Timbers coach Caleb Porter (who led the school to a national championship in 2010), striker Darlington Nagbe and midfielder Steve Zakuani. The Revolution contingent included midfielders Teal Bunbury and Scott Caldwell.
Another home match on tap: The Revolution will play their second straight game at home on Saturday, Aug. 23, when they host Chivas USA at 7:30 p.m. The intraconference clash will mark the only time the teams will meet during the regular season. Last year, they split the difference in a 1-1 draw at StubHub Center on June 29, 2013.