It’s safe to say that there were a few adverse conditions for the Revs to deal with last night in their preseason match against the Charlotte Eagles. First of all, the two-and-a-half hour bus ride from Cary to Charlotte put a completely different twist on the pregame routine for players who are accustomed to no more than a 15-minute ride to the stadium. Add in pouring rain, a slick field and a 30-minute lightning delay, and you’re miles away from your typical Saturday night soccer game.
But it would have to be said that the Revs dealt with the conditions admirably, battling their way to a 2-0 win behind goals from Zack Schilawski and Kenny Mansally, both of whom registered their second goal of the current preseason.
You can find my postgame recap here, and an additional recap from Keith Cannon in the Charlotte Observer here. We’ll also have some postgame video interviews with Schilawski and Cory Gibbs later today. But for now, here are some random thoughts from last night’s game …
- The Revs dealt with the weather conditions as well as could have been expected. Sure, there were some long passes which skipped out of play in the opening minutes as both teams adjusted to the wet surface, but New England found its footing and began connecting passes on a regular basis as the game wore on. The Revs also responded well to the 30-minute lightning delay, scoring within 10 minutes of coming back onto the field. After warming up and playing 10 minutes, it’s not easy – physically or mentally – to then go sit down for a half hour, but the Revs dealt with the situation well.
- Shalrie Joseph looked like a man among boys. It almost feels like this doesn’t even need to be said any more, especially on the heels of Joseph’s MVP-type campaign last year with career highs in both goals and assists, but his dominance in the middle of the field last night was remarkable. It almost didn’t even seem fair as Joseph won virtually every 50-50 challenge (and some which were probably 60-40 in the opponent’s favor) and was the catalyst for the Revolution’s attack all night. His distribution was spot on, which was no easy feat considering the slick field conditions, and it was his pass which set up Schilawski for the game-winning goal. Easily my Man of the Match, despite making way for a substitute in the 60th minute.
- Zack Schilawski has looked the part of a top-10 pick this preseason. While it’s too early to tell whether or not the Wake Forest product will be able to translate his preseason success into the regular season on a consistent basis, he’s done nothing but give Revolution fans hope thus far. The goal last night was well-worked on all accounts – a smart run into open space, a clever cutback to elude his defender, and a smart finish into the lower far-side netting. But his performance went well beyond the goal. Quite simply, he’s a hard worker with soccer intelligence, and that will get you a long way in this league. He made slashing runs when the time was right, and he came back for the ball when necessary. He even showed distribution skills, spraying the ball out to the wings when in possession. If I was a betting man, I’d put good money down to say that Revolution fans will take warmly to Schilawski.
- Cory Gibbs made a strong case for place in the starting lineup with a solid 90-minute performance. Playing alongside Emmanuel Osei, Gibbs was calm, cool and collected as the Revs earned a well-deserved shutout last night. Like currently-injured defender Darrius Barnes did last season, Gibbs complemented Osei’s sometimes adventurous style, covering when he needed to and organizing the entire backline. Often a lost art for defenders, his distribution out of the back was pinpoint, as he avoided the long ball and instead played smartly into the feet of his midfielders and helped turn defense into attack. He even wore the armband when Joseph was substituted in the 60th minute, displaying instant leadership skills. The question now becomes, what happens when Barnes is healthy? Does Gibbs move to the left to make way for a Barnes-Osei partnership? Can Barnes and Gibbs play alongside each other in the middle? Hopefully Barnes will recover by Saturday night’s match against the Carolina RailHawks so we can get a better idea.
- The jury is still out on Joseph Niouky, who deserves some time to adjust. It’s promising that Niouky was given a start just a few days after arriving in the United States, but as was almost to be expected, he’ll need a little time to adapt to life in the U.S. and Major League Soccer. With Shalrie Joseph controlling the midfield and spearheading the attack, Niouky played more of a possession role, often serving as a link to the defenders and wide midfielders with safe passes. He occasionally pushed into the attack – often linking up down the right side with Sainey Nyassi and Kheli Dube - but saw a few of his passes skip out of play on the wet surface. He’ll have another two weeks of training and two more preseason games before the season opener on March 27, so the time to adjust is available.
- Marko Perovic was bright in a 60-minute appearance. The only trialist to start last night, the 26-year-old Serbian was active down the left wing throughout the match. Very composed on the ball, Perovic made a few charging runs down the left, whipped in some quality crosses and earned a couple of dangerous free kicks around the box. He also took quite a few of the Revs set pieces, including corner kicks.
- The performances of Gareth Williams and Andres Raad can’t be judged from their late cameos. Playing 15 minutes and four minutes, respectively, Williams and Raad weren’t on the field long enough to make an impact. They’ll presumably see more action on Wednesday morning in the closed-door scrimmage against Duke.
- Nico Colaluca made an instant impact as a second-half substitute. Taking over for Perovic on the left wing in the 60th minute, Colaluca was a thorn in the side of the Eagles throughout the last half-hour of the game. His motor simply doesn’t stop, he hustles for every ball, and his confidence is skyrocketing. He had already shown himself an effective substitute before assisting on Mansally’s goal in the 73rd minute, but his killer ball to Dube to set up the play was the icing on the cake.
- Kenny Mansally has me second-guessing whether he can play as a forward. After struggling to make an impact as a forward in 2008 and early in 2009, Mansally moved to his more natural left wing position midway through last season and instantly seemed more comfortable. With that, many assumed that his days as a forward were done. With Taylor Twellman and Edgaras Jankauskas currently injured, however, Mansally may become an option up top, just as he was last night. Playing alongside Dube, Mansally scored one fantastic goal and came inches from doubling up on another occasion. On the goal, it was a clever overlap in a two-on-one situation which opened up the space, and his finish could not have been more clinical. With two goals in his last two preseason games, perhaps Mansally can serve in a versatile role as both a left midfielder and forward option.
- Preston Burpo came up big when he needed to. Rarely called into action last night, the expected opening day starter made one crucial save in the 90th minute to keep the clean sheet. A looping header appeared destined for the side netting, but Burpo backtracked and sprawled to tip the the shot wide of the right post. He had one slight fumble in the first half when he came off his line - easily attributed to the wet surface/ball – but beyond that he was commanding in the box and was surehanded on corners and crosses.
That’s probably enough from me on last night’s performance, but I’m already looking forward to two more preseason games on Wednesday morning against Duke and Saturday night against the Carolina RailHawks. With just 13 days until the season opener, we’re getting down to the nitty gritty.
To close out, here are my top three choices for Man of the Match against the Charlotte Eagles.
1. Shalrie Joseph
2. Zack Schilawski
3. Cory Gibbs
I’ll be back a little bit later today with a more lighthearted post about off-day activities, but for now, it’s off to lunch.