Opening Day Victory: Is it Groundhog Day or Are there Signs of Progress?

ImageLike many revs fans, I woke up this morning with a smile on my face as I drank my coffee. Given the revs have traditionally had a tough start out of the gate, winning the opener on the road is obviously a great way to begin the 2013 season. To win in Chicago is even more satisfying.

But before we get overly excited about last night’s performance sans Sene, and anoint the revs MLS Cup contenders, we should remember the revs started off the Heaps era a year ago with a comprehensive 3-1 win at the Champs in LA. Fans were understandably re-energized and excited at the new-look revs under Heaps.

And then the 2012 season happened. The revs failed to win another road game for 6 months.

Moving ahead to this season, after watching last night’s game, the revs still have the same core problem as a year ago. It was fun to watch the tiki taka combination play orchestrated by Toja in the second half but the reality is thuggery trumps finesse and MLS teams know this. How the revs deal with the thuggery will go a long way towards deciding if this season is another Groundhog Day under Heaps or the Revs will make genuine progress in the 2013 campaign.

Signs of Groundhog Day?
Based on the importance of the skillful and creative Toja, Rowe and Nguyen to the attack, I’d anticipate the 2013 Revs will match up well against (perhaps ironically) the more skilled, finesse teams like LA, NYRB and SKC. Then, they will likely get beaten to a pulp again by the Houston and Seattle’s of the league who don’t play soccer and just hack the crap out of you all game. Last season, teams learned quickly this was an effective game plan against the revs and were able to marginalize their attack by simply fouling everyone. It’s why Benny led the league last year in most fouled. They knew the revs don’t have a dead ball specialist – so why not put them in dead ball situations?  We saw the start of it again last night with the thuggery in Chicago, taking out Soares, Nguyen and Rowe – with old friend Ginger the culprit on a couple occasions.

Strong Toja and Bengtson Performances: Signs of Progress?

We know he can score for Honduras - will that finishing ability translate in Foxboro?
We know Jerry Bengtson can score for Honduras – will that finishing ability translate in Foxboro in 2013?

One of the key to success for the 2013 revs is whether a true El Pibe type emerges, which the revs have lacked since the Ralston era. Toja had a strong second half last night, playing out of position as the false 9. The combination play, vision and off the ball runs were positive and enjoyable to watch, especially in the second half. As the season progresses, if Toja (or Rowe, even Dorman..) can be that man who sprays balls around the pitch supporting the attack and providing service for Bengtson and Sene to finish (a second key to success) then we will be in good shape.

However, this brings us back to the initial cause for concern which is the rampant thuggery, which we know MLS clubs will use to beat the revs. A major achilles heel is losing the creativity and sharp edge Toja brings in the attacking third. If the revs become predictable and don’t really keep teams pinned back or fearful of our attack, it will be 2012 all over again. So to avoid Ground Hog Day, strong play from Cisse and Simms is vital to the overall success of the revs attack.They need to consistently provide bite in the middle of the park that will serve notice if teams target our skilled guys, there will be hell to pay.

Time will tell: Groundhog Day or Signs of Progress?

So the takeaway from last night, while it’s a good start, the revs need far more consistently this campaign. Getting the full 3 points on the road is a big x factor to being in the playoff conversation or floundering in obscurity. After a tentatively optimistic start only time will tell whether the revs have learned their lesson or will repeat the same mistakes as 2012.