Monday, June 1, 2009

Twellman Returns; Revs Win

Speculation flew in the early part of the week, as it appeared Taylor Twellman was getting closer to match fitness. As it drew closer to game time, it seemed almost immanent that the star striker would play in his first match of the season against DC. He actually did more than just play in his first match of the season, he changed the game completely.

Still looking for his 100th career MLS goal, the 29 year old Twellman began the night on the bench. There was already a sort of buzz in the air of Gillette just knowing that Twellman was suited up and available for the first time all season. Most fans and media believed Twellman would get a run out, but I don't think anyone knew how quickly he would be called upon to change things.

The game started off very sloppy for the Revs. Fred was running rampant through the middle of the field, and DC saw a few missed chances go by the board. The Revs endured the early onslaught, and held the game nil-nil for the first 35 minutes of the match. Poor possession, though bad giveaways, and impatient distrubution left the Revs backline on their heals throughout the beginning of the match.

In the 25th minute of the game, Twellman made his debut. Jeff Larentowicz had just suffered a concusion, which lead to the early substition, and an opportunity to put Twellman in the game. His impact was felt almost immediately. It had been so long since we had seen him in a game, and we almost forgot what it was like to have a true attacking presence up top. He made incisive runs, checked back for distribution from midfield, held the ball up to patiently to allow the attack build, was dangerous in the box, distributed wide and stretched the field etc... All things that this Revs team has lacked in the first 9 games of the season.

Of course it wasn't all Twellman. He is still a player who relies on the creative brilliance of a Steve Ralston playing behind him. He also needs to be provided balls into the box from the wide positions. Ralston and Twellman both need the type of strong midfield workhorse playing behind them in a Shalrie Joseph. However, it had been so long since we had seen this backbone of the team playing together, that we had almost forgot how effective they were together. Josephs ability to come deep into his own end to win balls, then distribute effectively, works so well with the creative intelligence of Steve Ralston, that they almost look born to play with eachother. Without that player playing above them (Twellman), who can effectively take their passes and creative playmaking skills, it seemed that their skills were going somewhat unused through the first part of this season.

Not all was pretty in this win, however. They still needed to steal three points on a late penalty call, which will still be debated, and will leave United with a sour taste in it's mouth. There were also some questionable performances from players like Pat Phelan, who was exposed as a lone defensive midfielder when Shalrie pushed forward. Chris Tierney's game also leaves a lot to be desired out on the wing. He lacks pace, and skills to really create things down the flank. He does probably send in the most effective ball into the box from the wide position, but getting to that space to deliver is a large task for a player with his limited ability.

The backline was decent all game long. Heaps and Barnes are still caught trailing attackers, and giving them too much space in critical areas of the field. Osei, although highly skilled, still makes risky decisions in distribution in his own third. The players in the back were under constant pressure for the majority of the match, and especially in the first half. Once Joseph was allowed to sit back more, due to the additions of Twellman, and then Mansally out wide, he was able to help a struggeling Phelan deal with Fred, who had been the most dangerous man on the pitch to that point. Once Fred was shut down, the DC attack became very one dimensional, and lacked a lot of vision and creativity. This lead to the Revs being able to win possession back much easier. Then with Twellman's ability to hold the ball up, they were able to maintain possession much more effectively than they had all season. Twellman is also the most effective player at being the first defender in transition. He pressures defenders into making poor decisions on the ball, and many times into giving up possession to our midfield. This relentless pressure takes pressure off of the Revs backline, and allows the Revs to maintain possession in the opponents attacking third of the field.

Mansally coming in on the wing also provided some much needed speed on the wing. He also looked much more comfortable, and effective out there, than we have ever seen him up top. His cross to Joseph early in the second half, was a quality play, and hopefully he can provide more just like it as the season moves on.

The domino effect of Twellman's presence, is something that we hope will continue through the rest of the season, and beyond. It is clear that this Revs roster lacks a player of his ability up top, and having to push either Joseph or Nyassi into that role just takes away from other critical areas of the field. It is unfortunate that Twellman's return came at the expense of a Larentowicz concusion, but if not for that change, the Revs would likely be sitting on 10 points after a loss, rather than the 13 they have tallied due to only their 2nd win at home on the season.

All in all, a great 3 points. The stadium atmosphere was also the best it has been all season, and we will be writing something about that later today.


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