Friday, March 22, 2013
An added challenge for home opener
By Brian O'Connell
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The soccer gods clearly didn’t do the Revolution any scheduling favors for Saturday’s home opener.
Not only does New England have to face the reigning conference kings, but it must do so without either one of its top strikers.
In light of that, Revolution head coach Jay Heaps said the focus this week has been on the need to be sharp against Sporting Kansas City on Saturday.
“Your first two to three passes have to be helping your situation, not hurting your situation,” Heaps said. “(Sporting K.C.) likes to close that gap pretty quickly so there’s no toiling on the ball. Decisions have to be made before the ball gets there.”
Those decisions will come under greater scrutiny with forward Jerry Bengtson unavailable due to World Cup Qualifying. And while Saer Sene, last year’s leading scorer, continues his recovery from ACL surgery last fall, Heaps believes that having depth up top could mitigate their absences.
“That’s why we have players like Dimitri (Imbongo) and Chad (Barrett) and Diego (Fagundez), and Ryan Guy's been getting some runs up there as well,” Heaps said. “We have guys who are stepping in to play and I think that it's always good, when you get your opportunity, to make the most of it.”
But Heaps isn’t just looking toward his forwards to carry the burden of getting on the board.
“We need production from our midfield, we need a balanced attack,” Heaps said. “You have to be able to score from other angles.”
While putting the ball in the back of the net is priority number one, the Revolution must also contend with Kansas City’s high-pressure 4-3-3 formation. With ex-Rev Benny Feilhaber, Uri Rosell and Paulo Nagamura paving the way, and Claudio Bieler ready to pounce inside the box, New England’s defense is all but certain to have its hands full.
“They’re not a team that really (sits back on the road), their game plan doesn’t change,” Revolution center back A.J. Soares said. “They’re a team that’s going to come right out and attack.”
Granted, Peter Vermes’ team has also been affected by World Cup Qualifying. Last year’s assist leader Graham Zusi and 2012 Defender of the Year Matt Besler will be away with the U.S. National Team.
And while the absences of Zusi and Besler probably won’t help Kansas City’s efforts, Heaps is expecting the same brand of constant pressure that Vermes’ team is known for.
“They do a good job of getting to the ball, and they’ve shown that,” Heaps said. “They come out and they really put a lot of pressure on certain areas of the field and close off passing angles. They do a good job of holding a high line to make sure that nothing gets in front of them. They win everything.”
Saturday will pose a stern test for the Revolution, no doubt. But for all the guidance and game planning that’s gone into this weekend’s conference clash, Heaps knows that it won’t amount to much unless his squad can put it into practice.
“There (are) things that you can preach,” Heaps said. “But until you get out there, and feel the intensity of their pressure, it’s a different beast altogether once the game starts.”