Chris Wondolowski looks to make it five games in a row with a goal against the Revolution Saturday night. Back on April 17th, Wondo started his scoring streak with a fine effort past a diving Preston Burpo. Photo: Joe Nuxoll, centerlinesoccer.com
Last week's Earthquakes match preview with Nat Baker of ASN was so enjoyable I called up another colleague to look ahead to this weekend's away match at the New England Revolution. Ladies and gentleman, I'm happy to introduce Hank Alexandre of "The Midnight Ride" weekly Revolution podcast. Hank was gracious with his time, and shared some answers to my questions on the state of affairs for New England.
Center Line Soccer: When last the Earthquakes and Revolution faced each other, the Quakes took advantage of the absence of Shalrie Joseph in the Revs midfield to dominate possession in a 2-0 victory. Since that game, the Revs have only collected 1 point from four games? Has the Revolution's poor run of form been a direct result of losing Joseph, or have there been other issues that have contributed to the lack of positive results?
The Midnight Ride: I think the loss of Joseph is definitely a contributing factor, but so too has the loss of Steve Ralston and Jeff Larentowicz. Either of those two could have provided cover in the center of the pitch in Shalrie's absence. Unfortunately for the Revs, neither is an option.
Injuries are definitely a problem for the Revolution. Twellman, Reis, and Joseph are all out indefinitely. Osei is out with a leg infection. Kevin Alston, Darrius Barnes and Cory Gibbs have all seemed to pick up a knock and are sitting out the Open Cup match on Wednesday night. Videira is also out with an ankle injury. But there is a bigger problem that runs deeper than injuries, and gets into the building of the player roster.
When it comes to landing experienced players from outside the draft, it has been hit or miss. Look at some of the recent transactions made by Steve Nicol and the Revs' front office. Edgaras Jankauskas has been a bust. Mauricio Castro has yet to see the field this season. Joseph Niouky has started almost every game but has looked dreadfully out of place. On the other hand Sainey Nyassi and Kenny Mansally were relatively unknown and have shown promise. Trading for Cory Gibbs and Preston Burpo was necessary and justifiable, but came at the high price of losing any hope of resigning Larentowicz. The jury is still out on Marko Perovic, who has shown promise but has not seen enough playing time for anyone to pass judgment.
What it comes down to is this: The Revs style has always been to dominate the run of play through maintaining a strong spine down the middle of the field. Nicol has done an admirable job rebuilding the back line, but has yet to be able to fill the holes left vacant by Larentowicz, Raslton, and now Joseph. Unless he can adapt to a new style of play, the Revs will continue to struggle as they just don't have the necessary components anymore.
But looking at San Jose, to what do you attribute the current run of form? You've had some push over opponents (New England included) but did very well against NYRB. Is this Frank Yallop finally getting it right? Or is it the fact that you've finally been able to scoop up some talented players?
CLS: The Earthquakes are coming off two straight games at home as they make their way back east -- two straight clean-sheets for Joe Cannon and the defense against opponents that came into Buck Shaw with good offensive pedigree. Ramiro Corrales and Jason Hernandez have anchored the back line all season, and have been getting solid contributions from Chris Leitch and Bobby Burling to round out the back four. The depth in the defensive core is no accident -- General Manager John Doyle and Coach Frank Yallop believe strongly in being tough to break down in their half of the field, especially at home.
The current run of form is marred by the 3-2 loss at Chivas USA, but even in that match the Earthquakes looked strong. In fact, that game at the Home Depot Center was rated better by Yallop then the 1-0 win over Colorado a week later. The common factor throughout their surprisingly good start to the season has been the depth of the roster and the emergence of some new and familiar faces to playing levels many did not expect coming into 2010. Bobby Convey has been on a roll, and struck up a great partnership with Corrales on the left side. And we have fourth-stringer forward Chris Wondolowski tying a franchise record for goals in consecutive games at four. Even when the Quakes do have injuries -- Burling for Ike Opara, Wondo for Arturo Alvarez, Leitch for Steve Beitashour -- we have not seen a drop-off in play from this team.
The hard work of building a deep roster and collecting quality players from the MLS draft have resulted in a team ready to compete with the league's best. So far the Quakes schedule has been lenient, but with every win the team confidence grows. And now, even away games are looked at as opportunities to earn points in the table. It will be a great measure of the current squad to see how they go on the road against the Revolution this Saturday and the Seattle Sounders FC next weekend.
Looking back to the first meeting of these clubs -- a 2-0 victory for the Quakes at Buck Shaw Stadium -- San Jose's offensive created the majority of scoring opportunities. While, we didn't see the Revs score in that match, where is the offense coming from so far this early in the season?
TMR: If you remember last season the Revs were without the scoring prowess of Taylor Twellman or Steve Ralston and managed to find help from Shalrie Joseph, Kheli Dube, and Jeff Larentowicz. Right now only one of those players is still actively playing for the Revs, and although Dube has not yet scored for the Revs this season, he has managed to register 4 assists.
The Revs have been shut out in 3 of their 5 league losses this season (interestingly against all west coast teams) and currently have a -4 goal differential. Most of their offense seems to have come from applying pressure against weak defensive teams (like Dallas and Toronto) and taking advantage of poor decisions by the opposing team. Only in two games this season have we seen players create their own space and score. The first was against DC where Kenny Mansally came on and scored twice in the final 10 minutes. The second was against Columbus where Zak Boggs also scored twice in a 10 minute span.
Zack Schilawski, who has four goals this season, has proven he can get on the end of some runs and find the back of the net. But the service into the box has been inconsistent at best - and until the Revs figure out a way to hold the ball in the midfield, they will continue to struggle in the final third.
I am not optimistic about Saturday's outcome for the Revs, but think that if the Revs can put out the same 11 or close to it that played in Columbus last Saturday, they may have a shot at a draw.
CLS: It really looks to be a case of two teams moving in opposite directions right now, leading me to believe that the Earthquakes will at worst leave New England with a draw. However, San Jose has struggled mightily on the road since 2008, and is without a win on artificial turf since that time. A similar game presented itself in week #3, when the Quakes were coming off the win of the Revs at home before visiting Chivas USA in Carson. Chivas USA bounced back in that game to hand the Quakes a 3-2 defeat.
Still, with all the injuries and a congested schedule these past couple weeks, the Revolution look ripe for the taking. I'm on record as giving the Quakes a 2-0 victory this Saturday night, and I feel confident that the club can deliver.
Hank Alexandre covers the New England Revolution as a correspondent for "CSRN's Around the League" weekly MLS roundup show, and the American Soccer News website. Every Sunday evening he leads the finest Revs live podcast, "The Midnight Ride" on UStream and iTunes.