Soccer

FRANK DELL’APA | SOCCER NOTEBOOK

Schedule gives Revolution an early opportunity

Columbus Crew's Waylon Francis, left and New England Revolution's Justin Rennicks, right, battle for the ball during the second half of an MLS soccer game, Saturday, March 9, 2019, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Stew Milne)
stew milne/AP
The Revolution’s Justin Rennicks (right) battled Columbus’s Waylon Francis for the ball during New England’s home opener Saturday.

FOXBOROUGH — The Revolution are reshaping their identity under second-year coach Brad Friedel. But there is no guarantee the team’s change of face will lead to significant improvement.

After the Revolution sustained a 2-0 loss to the Columbus Crew on Saturday, their first home-opening defeat since 2006, Friedel said the team needs time to adjust to the alterations.

Friedel’s predecessor, Jay Heaps, also needed time to adapt. And the Revolution started showing signs of improvement in Heaps’s second season.

Advertisement

Heaps was starting almost from scratch in 2012. Friedel, though, has plenty of material to work with, and greater financial commitment, as well. But the level of competition in MLS has improved, so Friedel is facing stronger challenges than many of the Revolution’s previous six coaches.

Get Sports Headlines in your inbox:
The most recent sports headlines delivered to your inbox every morning.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

One of Heaps’s accomplishments was solidifying the Revolution’s home-field advantage at Gillette Stadium. A supportive crowd can help the team, but the Revolution’s greatest home edge is the artificial surface that often discourages opponents. Opponents struggle with possession, and are vulnerable to high-pressing tactics. Some foes are wary of injury and play cautiously — or they simply don’t bother to show up, the highest-profile examples being the New York Red Bulls’ Thierry Henry and the Los Angeles Galaxy’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

The Crew have been an exception, a team willing to play out of the back under any circumstance, and that has often prevented the Revolution from setting the tempo. The Crew remained composed against the Revolution’s pressing tactics, and opened the scoring on an inspired combination involving Pedro Santos and Gyasi Zardes, who has seven goals in eight career games against the Revolution.

Visitors sometimes simply stifle the game. The Revolution were held to 0-0 ties in four successive home openers from 2013-16. But they mostly dominated opponents, and from 2013-17 they compiled a home mark of 61-17-19 that included a 19-match unbeaten run, plus two postseason wins and a playoff series-clinching draw.

In 2017, Heaps’s final year as coach, the Revolution sustained some decisive defeats on the road, but finished 12-2-3 at home, including two wins over MLS Cup titlist Toronto FC.

Advertisement

The Revolution, who visit Toronto Saturday, will play six home games in the first eight weeks of the season. The schedule gives the Revolution a chance for a strong start, but only if they can assimilate the newcomers.

Seven players who participated in last year’s home opener have either departed (Krysztian Nemeth, Kelyn Rowe, Chris Tierney), are injured (Andrew Farrell), or are in reserve roles (Jalil Anibaba, Gabriel Somi, Matt Turner). Farrell (torn retina) could be out until next month.

Four players made their Revolution home debuts against the Crew: Tajon Buchanan and Justin Rennicks, both 19, who made their professional debuts; plus Edgar Castillo and Carles Gil.

Buchanan, Diego Fagundez, and Rennicks helped energize the Revolution in the second half, but seldom threatened to unhinge the Crew.

The Revolution are banking on a Cristian Penilla-Castillo combination on the left side. But Friedel believed Penilla had been ineffective, and placed Fagundez and Buchanan on the left wing in the second half against the Crew.

Advertisement

Meanwhile, the forwards have had few opportunities in two games. Juan Agudelo and Gil started against the Crew, Rennicks replacing Agudelo after halftime. Gil was limited by tough marking, including a Gaston Sauro foul that knocked him out of action just when the Revolution needed him to execute a free kick and/or the resulting penalty kick. Gil reentered the match in time for the penalty kick, but did not take it, possibly because he was still affected by the injury. Then, Fagundez’s equalizing attempt was saved by Zack Steffen.

Colombian striker Juan Fernando Caicedo, who missed the first two games with an injury, performed in a scrimmage against Fairfield University on Sunday and is expected to provide an option up front.

“It doesn’t matter what your last name is, if we think things are not working, we’ll make the change,” Friedel said. “It does not mean by any stretch of the imagination we’re upset with Cristian or Juan [Agudelo], it was what was needed on the day. I thought the subs helped in the second half. Now, another week starts and everyone has the ability to get into the starting 11.”

National duty

Christian Pulisic has been named to the US team for matches against Ecuador in Orlando March 21 and Chile in Houston March 26.

Pulisic returned from injury to score a goal and provide an assist in Borussia Dortmund’s 3-1 win over Stuttgart Saturday. Pulisic, who has made nine starts in all competitions this season, scored his first Bundesliga goal since Sept. 22.

Madrid on a skid

After one of the worst weeks in Real Madrid’s history, the Merengues announced the return of coach Zinedine Zidane, hired through the 2022 season. In a seven-day span, Real Madrid lost three home matches: It was eliminated from the Copa del Rey by Barcelona and the Champions League by Ajax, and lost, 1-0, to Barca to fall 12 points behind the Blaugrana in La Liga. Real Madrid recovered, but had some difficult moments in taking a 4-1 victory over Real Valladolid.

The Merengues, with former Stockton State midfielder Santiago Solari coaching his final match, surrendered an early penalty kick (missed by Ruben Alcaraz) and fell behind on Anuar’s 29th-minute goal before rallying against Valladolid.

Old friends

Former Revolution coaches Heaps (president/GM) and Tom Soehn (head coach) got off to a losing start with the USL’s Birmingham Legion, falling, 2-0, to Bethlehem Steel Sunday. The Legion performed before a sellout crowd (5,807) at BBVA Compass Field in what was billed as the first professional soccer game in Birmingham, Ala.

The Legion lineup included former Revolution players Femi Hollinger-Janzen, Daigo Kobayashi, and goalkeeper Trevor Spangenberg. Soehn’s assistant coaches include former Revolution winger Khano Smith. Bethlehem’s Kacper Pyzbylko and Zach Zandi scored, and former Harvard goalkeeper Matt Freese earned a shutout.

Birmingham drew more than 330,000 spectators for eight soccer games in a nine-day span during the 1996 Olympic Games.

Another former Revolution player, Eric Wynalda, made his debut as coach of the Las Vegas Lights in a 0-0 draw against the Austin Bold before 8,017 spectators. Former Revolution defender London Woodberry was on the Austin bench.