Thursday, November 15, 2007

MLS Cup Key Matchup #2

The next key matchup involves how well New England's central midfielders can contain Houston's attacking midfield.

Players Involved

New England: Shalrie Joseph, Jeff Larentowicz

Houston: Dwayne De Rosario, Brad Davis, Bian Mullen.

Although Houston lines up in a 4-4-2 formation, De Rosario often plays ahead of Mulrooney and shoulders most of the attacking responsibility from the center of the pitch. This formation also allows wide midfielders, Davis and Mullen, to bring the ball in from the wings in an attacking posture. When this attack is clicking, it has been known to produce a non-stop barrage on the opposing goal. When it isn't, attacking players can become isolated and ineffective.

Tasked with controlling this part of the pitch for the Revs are Shalrie Joseph and Jeff Larentowicz. Joseph has been known to shut down key attacking midfielders in the past. Such examples have been Amado Guevara, Christian Gomez, and most recently, Blanco. The last on that list may have been more of a result of Jeff Larentowicz. Larentowicz has really made great strides this year and has become one of the best holding midfielders in MLS.

Houston maintained the pressure on the Revs in last year's cup, especially in the first half. Larentowicz looked like he was playing very nervous at times, something I don't expect from him this time out. At this point last year, Daniel Hernandez was edging out Larentowicz for that last midfield spot for much of the final months in the season. He had only been playing in spurts, and he was giving the Dynamo attack way too much space in the final. For this game, Larentowicz comes in as a seasoned starter and a true leader on the field. That may be the difference is stopping Houston's assault in it's tracks.

Without Brian Ching in the lineup, a Houston goal likely won't be coming from garbage in front of net. To score, they will need to create opportunities from the midfield. If Joseph and Larentowicz can shut down DeRo from the start, the Revs can finally take the initiative in a final. Conversely, Houston could see this and bunker down themselves.

If Houston wins this battle, we'll see a repeat of last year's encounter until the first goal is scored. That's something Revs fans, and neutrals alike, are hoping doesn't happen.