New England Muggles Overturn Wizards

Ah, my first Harry Potter headline...(cough..cough...nerd!...cough).

Last night’s MLS Primetime match-up suggested at least one thing about the Eastern Conference race: the New England Revolution holds the better hand. Add a win on Saturday/Sunday (forgive the vagueness; I’m forcing myself to go on memory) against DC United and the Revs look a lot like the early favorite for the Eastern title.

Good we have to endure another Houston Dynamo/New England MLS Cup. Ugh...chasing that chilling vision of the future from my head...gimme a minute...

Like it or not, the Revs looked good and solid last night (and I’m OK with that). Even if one believes (as I do) that the visiting Kansas City Wizards had the better of the first half, the Revs’ back-three-plus-Matt-Reis limited them to long-range shots on goal; a corner or four or five got the ball in the area, but there wasn’t a lot of penetration. More impressive, though, was the reappearance of New England’s oft-forgotten “passing game”: for the first time in a while, the Revs managed the ball well and with some measure of patience.

But it was the inability of the Wizards to defend as high as they normally do, particularly as the game went on, that defined this game; Shalrie Joseph picking up the ball, turning unimpeded, and abruptly keying the Revs from defense to offense serves as the relevant image. ESPN’s on-air crew noted another piece: the frequency with which either Steve Ralston or Khano Smith enjoyed wide-open spaces on either flank. By the end of the game, “Here come the Revolution” sounded every minute or so, speaking to the siege of KC’s defensive third.

The Wizards, however, retained the aspect of a valid challenger: the Revs held only a one-goal lead for most the game and, in spite of their general attacking advantage, they didn’t put produce that many clear-cut chances. In the earlier part of the game, KC bunkered New England in their end; that’s something, even if they couldn’t break them down. By the second half, the Revs - led by Michael Parkhurst and Jeff Larentowicz - either disrupted the majority of chances before the second pass, or forced defenders to charge far upfield in search of new openings, but the Wizards had enough chances - not to mention one near-miss I mistook for a goal - to pick up a result. They’re good enough for the post-season, no question - unless they don’t keep their heads.

And so it goes: the Revs continue as a contender thanks to the combination of being hard to beat while possessing the personnel to capitalize on a few openings. A great example of this comes in the person of Ralston: at the tail end of one of his worst games I can recall, he plays a perfect ball to Adam Christman, Revs score, game over. At their best, the Revs are just lethal like that.

Some other more specific, yet random observations:

- Michael Parkhurst really does kick ass. So smart, so unflappable, so capable...more on this later.

- I’m finally getting Jeff Larentowicz: even if he’s a little limited going the other way, he’s a fairly capable destroyer.

- That KC was limited to outside shots wouldn’t have mattered so much if more of them looked like Jack Jewsbury’s slicing shot, the one time I thought the Wizards had actually scored. Unfortunately, most the Wizards’ shots went stratospheric.

- What has happened to Carlos Marinelli? He’s like a magician whose deck of cards spilled out of his sleeve. Here I thought he was going to be huge for the Wizards. He may yet, of course, but the Revs sure as hell had him figured.

- Eddie Johnson, Eddie Johnson, Eddie Johnson...what the hell to think, right? Early in the game, he pops the ball to an opening and lashes a quality shot past Avery John; the rest of the game, he gets stood up and....that’s it. He either dropped the ball miles back to a KC defender, or got the ball picked off in making the attempt. Makes one think it’s too easy to get into his head and frustrate him. Johnson needs to correct that.

- Speaking of forwards, Pat Noonan: dang, I like that cat. I like the subtle difference to his game, that little thing that sets him apart from other strikers. Now that he's fit again, I'd really like to see him in the National Team pool to see whether his schtick works in the Bigs.

- When Khano Smith is on, he’s pretty damned fun to watch. I’m tempted to call that 70-yard breakout run, which ended with a great shot on goal and a solid save by KC ‘keep Kevin Hartman as the game’s turning point.

- Speaking of Hartman, LA was friggin’ dumb to let him go. He played a great one last night. Near as I can tell, he gifts the opposition about two goals per season, but is otherwise remains one of the league’s best.

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