By now, you’ve probably seen the news that the Revs played to a 1-1 draw with Duke University in an early-morning scrimmage today at WakeMed Soccer Park. While a 1-1 draw with a college team might seem like a disappointing result just 10 days shy of the regular season, it’s important to remember that preseason is not about the results. With that said, the draw brings the Revolution to a respectable 2-1-1 this preseason with still one more match to play – on Saturday night against the Carolina RailHawks (NASL).
In a sense, it was a tale of two halves for the Revs on Wednesday morning. While a near top-choice lineup (minus the walking wounded) started and played the first half, the Revolution made six changes at the half and seven substitutions total as they rested players and evaluated all available talent.
Here are some of my thoughts/observations/conclusions from the Duke scrimmage …
1. The Zack Schilawski – Kheli Dube partnership up front continues to develop. The duo combined well yet again throughout the first half of Wednesday morning’s scrimmage, highlighted by Dube’s assist on Schilawski’s third goal of the preseason. It’s the second time that the pair has teamed up to find the back of the net this season, as Schilawski assisted on Dube’s goal in the 6-0 win over the college all-stars in Orlando. With now eight weeks of training and four preseason games alongside each other, they really seem to be developing an understanding. As stated before, Schilawski-Dube might be the default forward pairing with Taylor Twellman and Edgaras Jankauskas injured, but they’ve consistently shown that they can rack up the goals.
2. Schilawski should be recognized for his overall play, not just his goal-scoring. While a forward will almost always be judged by his record of goals scored, that shouldn’t be the case for the hardworking Schilawski. Of course, three goals in his last three games hasn’t hurt his cause, but it’s been his all-around ability which has caught my attention. He continues to show soccer smarts with his runs off the ball and his distribution when receiving the ball away from goal has been above-average. Most of all, I’ve loved his hustle and tenacity on the defensive side of the ball. Opposing defenders have not had the chance to relax, as Schilawski is constantly nipping at their heels and pressuring the ball. On more than one occasion, his pressure has resulted in a turnover, and when you’re that close to the goal, turnovers become instant scoring chances.
3. The Revolution’s defending on set pieces has been solid, but there was a lapse on the corner-kick goal conceded against Duke. I almost mentioned in my postgame thoughts for the Charlotte Eagles match that the Revs have had no issues defending set pieces this preseason, which is promising after last year’s struggles from dead-ball situations. Then they allowed one of the smallest players on the field to score a near-post header from a corner kick in the 1-1 draw with Duke. While there are certainly still some kinks to be worked out, I do think that the Revs have made proper adjustments on the defensive side of set pieces and will be improved in that area this season.
For a more in-depth look at the set piece situation with insight from Chris Tierney and Pat Phelan, you can read my Duke sidebar here.
4. Joseph Niouky looked much more comfortable against Duke than he did against Charlotte. The young Senegalese midfielder was understandably tentative in his first preseason match with the Revs last weekend, playing against the Charlotte Eagles just a few days after arriving in the United States. Most of his passes were “safe” and were either backwards to defenders or square to wingers, but he rarely ventured forward into the attack. That wasn’t the case today in his 45-minute performance against Duke, as he found himself much more involved in the offense and attempted a few defense-splitting passes. Once, he even chased a ball over the top of the Blue Devils backline and narrowly missed beating the offside trap. While he didn’t connect on any killer balls this morning, it was encouraging to see him push into the attack, and I’d expect him to only become more comfortable the longer he’s here.
5. Marko Perovic had a field day down the left wing in the last appearance of his stint with the Revs. Although he’s expected to leave tomorrow after closing out his week-long stay with the Revs, Perovic was impressive in a 65-minute stint against Duke on Wednesday morning. He torched his defender multiple times down the left, using a Preki-esque cutback move to great effect. And while it’s all well and good to skin a defender, the final ball has to be there once a winger creates space – and for Perovic, the service was great. Whether he – or Gareth Williams or Andres Raad – will rejoin the Revs remains to be seen.
6. Gareth Williams is accurate with the long ball. Similar to Perovic, the Scottish midfielder closed out his week-long stint with the Revs today. Playing in a more deep-lying role in central midfield, Williams was eager to ping balls across the field to surging wingers. It wasn’t always successful, but he clearly has an accurate foot.
7. Chris Tierney limited his mistakes playing in an unfamliar right back position. He’s always been a versatile player, serving as a left-sided defender and midfielder in his first two years with the Revs, but Tierney displayed even more versatility with a 90-minute performance on the right this morning. With Jay Heaps – who played left, right and center back for the Revs – now in the broadcast booth as opposed to on the field, Tierney could become a player who can fill in on either side.
Here’s what he had to say about the experience:
“It’s definitely an adjustment. I found myself constantly trying to put it inside on my left foot. It’s a little awkward to be honest, but I’m just trying to make the adjustments and keep it simple. Soccer players should be able to play in a variety of positions, and that’s something that I pride myself on.”
8. Pat Phelan also showed his versatility, playing the full 90 minutes in central defense. With defenders Darrius Barnes (quad injury) and Cory Gibbs (rest) unavailable, Phelan stepped into the backline against Duke. It was a bit of a change for the third-year player, who has spent his first two professional seasons playing in central midfield for the Revolution. He did play as a central defender at Wake Forest, however, so the position was not entirely foreign.
Here’s what Phelan had to say about his stint as a center back:
“It took me about 10 minutes to get used to it, but you’ve got to be able to be flexible and everbody should be a utility player in some sense. While it’s not my preferred position, [coach Nicol] needed me to play there and I’m glad to help him out and help the team out, so I did what I could.”
9. Emmanuel Osei loves to get into the mix on set pieces. We saw his ability in the air last postseason with a clever goal against the Chicago Fire, and he’s also shown a propensity for long-range shots on free kicks this preseason. He often pushes into the box on corner kicks and today, he was almost rewarded in the 23rd minute. After a scramble in the box, the ball popped kindly into the air and Osei found the back of the net with an acrobatic bicycle kick. Everyone on the field seemed to assume the goal would count, but it was waved off for dangerous play and the score remained 1-1. And if you’ll remember, he actually scored following a corner kick in the 6-0 win over the Florida College All-Stars earlier this preseason. With Osei consistently pushing into the attack on set pieces, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him add his name to the scoresheet a few times in 2010.
With that, I’ll wrap up these postgame thoughts. The Revs will get back to training tomorrow morning and will have an additional session on Friday before closing out their North Carolina trip with their final preseason match against the Carolina RailHawks on Saturday night.