A winning formula
Obtain the ball and keep possession of it. Spray the ball into the wide areas whenever possible. Supply dangerous service into the penalty area. Convert the resulting chances into goals.
In the second half of Saturday night's 4-1 demolition of Toronto FC, New England Revs coach Steve Nicol watched as his side worked through the formula to perfection as Zack Schilawski's second-half hat trick sparked the Revs to their second consecutive victory.
“I think getting the ball wide was always going to be huge for us,” Nicol said after joining Seattle coach Sigi Schmid and U.S. national team coach Bob Bradley as the only coaches to win 100 MLS games. “The very first attack of the whole game, we got it wide and caused them trouble. Unfortunately in the first half, we just lacked that quality in their half of the field in order to get the breakthrough.”
The combination of improved quality and revised direction changed the calculus in the second half. Nicol urged his players to work the ball down the right side to expose debutant TFC left back Raivis Hscanovics in the second half. Hscanovics picked up a yellow card early in the first half as he tried to cope with Sainey Nyassi's speed and the Latvian fullback struggled when challenged with pacy runs down the right flank.
“It was part of our plan,” Nyassi said. “Stevie told us after the first half that he had a yellow card and that he was scared. He told us to get the ball wide. Any time I got the ball, I went at him. It paid off.”
Two of the Revolution's goals stemmed from tidy work down the right side of the park. Nyassi played a one-two with Kheli Dube down the right side to get in behind Hscanovics and play in a cross for Schilawski's first MLS goal two minutes after halftime, while Dube collected a Shalrie Joseph throughball and curled in a carbon copy cross for Schilawski to complete his hat trick in the 58th minute.
Stringing together those simple and effective combinations comes from working together on the practice field and figuring how to construct effective attacking movements, Dube said.
“It's stuff we work on in training,” Dube said as he reflected on the second goal. “Stevie says that he wants us to play one-touch football, and with Sainey's speed, if he gives you the ball, you know where to put it. He's that quick. It was just another play like we did at training.”
No amount of training-ground work can replicate the influence of having Shalrie Joseph in the center of the park to orchestrate the proceedings. Joseph missed the first two matches with a right hip flexor strain and battled a rib injury suffered on Thursday, but emerged through the mire of the TFC midfield in the second half to dictate the flow of the game.
When Joseph dominates the match in midfield, he stretches out the field by bringing the wide players into the game with diagonal passes and forcing compact sides like TFC to compensate by allowing more time and space in the center of the park.
“It helps having Shalrie back,” Schilawski said. “He's a big part of our team going both ways. I thought tonight, as far as keeping possession and connecting passes in the attacking half, it's the best we've done so far. Looking forward, it gives us a lot of confidence going into the next game.”
Combine the improved possession and wide play with a dose of alertness in the attacking third -- Schilawski stripped TFC defender Nick Garcia for the second goal, while Nyassi intercepted a poor Nane Joseph back pass for the fourth goal -- and the Revolution can pose problems for MLS defenses.
Kyle McCarthy covers the New England Revolution for the Boston Herald and MLSsoccer.com and serves as a contributing editor for Goal.com USA. Kyle can be reached at email@example.com.