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Revolution: some thoughts

Posted by Julian Cardillo  November 7, 2013 11:15 AM

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(This photo and those that follow are credited to Italo Alexander Photography)

In the wake of the Revolution's 4-3 aggregate goal loss to Sporting Kansas City in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, here are some thoughts on the Revolution, the playoff series, and where the team goes next.

Matt Reis: Batman, without the cape

Revs-10.jpgMatt Reis was fighting back tears when he limped off the field with the help of medical staff late in Wednesday night's game.

He reportedly tore his quadriceps when he ran out to midfield to clear a loose ball in the 120th minute. After he left the field, Twitter and Facebook exploded with praise and words of condolence to Reis, who was named the Revolution's match MVP at the end of the game.

That support, which came from Revolution, Kansas City, and neutral fans, was indicative of Reis' tungsten-strong performance in net. He made seven saves during the game, but was also a key figure in New England's end of season playoff push that saw them go 4-0-2.

"He's a stud and really led us into the playoffs and through that last stretch of games where we needed to win all the time," said defender AJ Soares. "He was that backbone, the guy we leaned on all the time and when we needed something to be said, a veteran presence to come in and let us know how it was going to be done, he was the guy."

Reis has been a key component to the Revolution's heart and soul both on and off the field. Against Kansas City, he showcased why he's still one of the best goalkeepers in MLS. In the 17th minute, he dove left to tip a snap-header from Kansas City's Dominic Dwyer from flying into the net. But Reis' signature stop was an Oh-you-gotta-be-kidding-me double save in the 55th minute. Chance Meyers cross from the right flank found Dwyer, who had another header blocked by an outstretched Reis. But Benny Feilhaber immediately headed the rebound back at goal, forcing Reis to jump up again and barely tip away the point-blank effort.

"That's been the story the last couple months," added Soares. "Matt Reis has been phenomenal...When we slipped up in the back, he was the guy that made the save. He was great and tonight he was great again and I'm just bummed out he went down with that injury."

Though Reis allowed two goals in regulation, neither was his fault. He was, however, partly to blame for Claudio Bieler's game-winning goal in the 113th minute. At end of a Kansas City attack, he threw the ball to the left flank toward Diego Fagundez. But Feilhaber intercepted the throw, ran down the flank, and played the ball into the penalty area for Bieler, who was wide open. Bieler connected with Feilhaber's feed and buried a first-time effort for the 4-3 aggregate lead, his first goal since Sept. 2.

That mistake of not being patient when in possession of the ball, is one that Reis has likely taught Revolution back-up Bobby Shuttleworth to avoid. This season, Reis was perhaps more useful as a mentor. He only regained his starting role after Shuttleworth's form started to dip in August. Until that point, Shuttleworth had used Reis' teachings to improve his game and command, what was at the time, the best back line in the league.

In recent months, there was great speculation over whether this season would be Reis' last. It's a subject that neither Reis nor the Revolution have addressed. To be fair, neither party has been asked.

If Reis does choose to retire this winter, he will do so as one of the best goalkeepers in league history. He is fifth all-time in the league in saves, shutouts, and has the third-best save percentage.

But the Revolution would lose a leader and a teacher, too. Shuttleworth has improved in part because of Reis. And Reis is a valued member of the locker room, too. His personality balances humor and determination, keeping his team at ease while they focus on the challenge ahead.

Former Revolution players make their statement

The difference-makers for Kansas City on Wednesday night were former Revolution players. Left back Seth Sinovic, drafted by the Revolution in 2010, scored the goal that forced extra time. Feilhaber, who joined the Revolution from Aarhus via the allocation draft in 2011, assisted on Kansas City's game-winning goal.

The transfer of Seth Sinovic is widely regarded by most members of the Revolution's media corps as the worst transaction in team history. Despite being a reliable, consistent left back in 2010, the Revolution waived Sinovic early in the 2011 season. By waiving Sinovic, they got nothing back in return.

Sinovic's salary was small enough that it made no difference to the cap. And, what's more, the Revolution signed defender Otto Loewy quickly after setting Sinovic loose. Weeks later, Sinovic joined his hometown Sporting Kansas City after trialing with them and Real Salt Lake.

Feilhaber, however, was a different case. By the end of last season, he was a bench player. He had fallen far from the form that had ushered him through a World Cup run with the U.S. in 2010. He also looked frustrated on the field; there was no chemistry between him and his teammates. His salary at the time was $400,000. For that chunk of cap space, Feilhaber was been worth more to the Revolution playing elsewhere.

So last fall, Feilhaber was traded to Kansas City for two draft picks and allocation money. It was a move that had to be done. But the Revolution shot themselves in the foot by allowing Feilhaber to stay in the Eastern Conference, where he could play against them more often.

Under league rules, the Revolution would have to play Kansas City at least twice during the regular season and could potentially face them in the playoffs, too. Both of those things happened. And Feilhaber, ever content to punish his former team, tallied a goal against the Revolution in the regular season and assisted on the strike that knocked them out of the playoffs.

The Revolution were not at full strength

Depth has been a major component to the Revolution's success this season. For every Reis, there was a Shuttleworth. For every Stephen McCarthy, there was a Soares. For every Juan Agudelo, there was a Chad Barrett or Dimitry Imbongo.

In the playoffs, the Revolution's depth was tested at especially left back. Injuries prevented both Chris Tierney and Kevin Alston from playing, forcing Jay Heaps to slot Darrius Barnes in that position. Barnes performed well, though it would have been more ideal for the Revolution to have had Tierney, who has been the set piece specialist all season.

Furthermore, the late season loss of Saer Sene (broken ankle) changed the complexion of the Revolution's attack. The trio of Fagundez, Agudelo, and Sene was potent for the Revolution and the team would have likely profited from an attack that was centered around those three players. Instead, Heaps had to opt for a hybrid 4-3-3 with Fagundez, Agudelo, and the revolving door of forwards that included Barrett, Imbongo, and Jerry Bengston.

Farewell, Juan Agudelo

Revs-11.jpgWith this playoff loss, Agudelo has the green light to leave MLS and join Stoke City, with whom he signed a pre-contract this summer. Agudelo is still reportedly waiting for his British work permit to be cleared, but he will nevertheless be an English Premier League player in the near future.

The signing of Agudelo was the Revolution's biggest transfer within MLS since they traded Jeff Larentowicz and Wells Thompson to Colorado for Preston Burpo and Cory Gibbs in 2010. Agudelo woke up the Revolution attack, which was gun-shy until he arrived from Chivas USA in May.

The magic of Agudelo was his skill on the ball and the way he paired with his teammates. He is able to dribble at defenders and create space for a penetrating pass.

In the locker room, he was stationed next to Fagundez. That set-up the duo to establish one of the best forward partnerships in MLS. On and off the field, they conversed in Spanish, a tactic which yielded like-minded play and kept their opponents guessing.

With Agudelo gone, the Revolution will be missing a hold-up forward. That's a position that's integral to Heaps' possession-based, attacking style.

A new season looms

Revs-7 (1).jpgThe Revolution will watch the remainder of the MLS Playoffs from their sofas and living rooms. They were considered, by many, to be the dark horses of the post-season. But on paper, the better team won in the Conference Semifinals. Kansas City outplayed the Revolution and entered the playoffs ranked higher than New England and with the league's best defensive record.

Nevertheless, New England's performance this season could set the pace for another return to the post-season next year. The only piece of the young nucleus that definitely won't return to Foxborough next year is Agudelo. The rest of the team seems poised to pick up where the 2013 Revolution left off.

After a period of rebuilding in his first year as Head Coach, Heaps seems poised to continue as well. He will look to learn from the mistakes of 2013 and make a deeper post-season push next year. He and General Manager Mike Burns will also likely have plenty of salary cap space to play with to make important personnel decisions.

If you want to reach Julian email him at julianccardillo@gmail.com and follow him on twitter @juliancardillo

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About Corner Kicks: Julian Cardillo offers insight and analysis about the New England Revolution as well as European and international soccer.

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