New England Evolution: Revs II fend off owls (and boredom) in inaugural draw

As any soccer blogger will tell you, you’re occasionally faced with a game so excitement-free, you question your commitment to the cause. Don’t weep for me, though. An adolescence spent watching England’s ‘golden generation’ achieve bugger-all helps build a tolerance for turgid soccer. I’m more worried some would-be soccer fans in Omaha may be rethinking their newfound fandom after watching what did(n’t) happen in Foxborough last Saturday between the baby Revs and the Owls.

The inaugural game in the history of both New England Revolution II and Union Omaha was a snoozer by any measure. Considering almost everyone on the field hadn’t kicked a ball in anger since last autumn, the slow start was forgivable. However, a gross lack of incompetence on the Owls’ part meant only the goalkeepers came way with any highlight reel fodder.

Rice to the Challenge

Revs II’s Virginian goalkeeper Joe Rice, who spent much of 2019 warming Richmond Kickers’ bench, more than vindicated his decision to leave home for a starting spot. There was one hairy moment when he was caught off his line at the corner of the box, but Omaha’s forward did him the favour of knocking him over. The center-backs chipped in with some timely clearances, but Rice was the difference-maker more than once.

The Hit-and-Hope Brigade

Costa Rican attacker Orlando Sinclair’s debut was marred by bad luck. Some overeagerness out of the blocks saw him twice fall foul of the linesman’s flag, and then Omaha’s keeper Rashid Nuhu decided to stand on his head. The Ghanaian’s surgical slide tackle (from behind no less) on the Saprissa loanee was a true blue mooner.

All of which appears to have led his teammates to conclude their best hope of breaking the deadlock was from range.  Such a scenario would help explain why the Revs’ midfield trio was taking shots more speculative than the average sci-fi novel. Congolese winger Mayele Malongo’s attempts were marginally less ambitious, but even he fired off a couple that would’ve made Stephen Gostkowski proud.

Enter the Dragon

As irony would have it, the Revs’ only shot on target was struck from nearly 30 yards out by Japanese full-back Ryo Shimazaki.* The VCU grad (where he played with Joe Rice) seemed to have a galvanizing effect on the home team when he subbed-in for Simon Lekressner at halftime. He also nearly triggered a promising attack, if only Brazilian midfielder Maciel had passed in to an onside (!) Sinclair, rather than back-heeling it to the feet of an Owl heading the other way.

*Shimazaki’s first name (竜) translates as “dragon” in English.

If head coach Clint Peay was watching the same game as the rest of us, Shimazaki should start next time. He’s certainly the best-credentialed full-back (or “side-back” as they’re called in Japan) on the roster, having spent two years in that position for J.League team Kawasaki Frontale’s U-18 side. That’s not to say Lekressner embarrassed himself, but Ryan Spaulding put in a solid enough shift up and down the left wing to justify retaining his spot.

Burns to New England Free Jacks?

In the VAR-free world of lower-league soccer, seeing players still get away with stealthy niggles has become a guilty pleasure for some. Trevor Burns has no time for subterfuge, as seen in his 93rd-minute takedown of Knutson. It was the first of three times the Revs took ruthlessly efficient measures to stop Omaha clinching a stoppage-time winner. Coach Peay ought to consider the three yellow cards in four minutes a price worth paying.

History of a Sort

Though Revs II weren’t the seventh MLS reserve team to start life with a win, nor were they the eighth such team to lose their inaugural game. Instead, they were the fourth to tie their first run-out. Considering the other names on that list – Los Dos, NYRB II and Real Monarchs – have two USL titles and a runners-up medal between them, you could call it auspicious.