It is one of the oldest saws in sports: practice makes perfect. And on Saturday, the New England Revolution put that phrase into action in their 4-2 win over the Columbus Crew.
The four-goal output from the Revolution was the talk of the league during the opening weekend of the MLS postseason, and with good reason. The way in which they scored half of those goals was a byproduct of constant repetition behind the scenes.
“It’s something we’ve spent a lot of time working on in training,” Revolution left back Chris Tierney told the media after the match. “When you get your chances, you have to take them, and we got two today, so that’s a plus.”
There’s no doubt that the Revolution were intent on making those chances count on Saturday. Employing a healthy dose of high-pressure for lengthy spells, the guests knew that putting the Crew under siege would eventually create set-piece opportunities.
As the likes of Teal Bunbury and Charlie Davies threatened inside the final third, the Crew had no choice but to start inflicting fouls. It wasn’t a surprising tactic, by any means. But it would prove to be a costly one. For within a 17-minute span, the Revolution scored not one, but two set-piece goals.
In the 34th minute, Bunbury was cut down by Wil Trapp near the top of the box. Kelyn Rowe took a few paces behind the ball to analyze the situation, and saw the perfect opportunity to employ a training-ground set-piece exercise.
He looked toward his left and saw Davies preparing himself to spear through the swarm of defenders. Rowe diagnosed the situation and promptly put the ball right into the path of Davies, who steered it through on a header.
“You see the ball that Kelyn Rowe put in, and the run that Charlie made on the first goal,” Tierney said. “That’s something that we worked on in training all week this week, so the hard work paid off.”
On the second set-piece strike, it was Tierney’s time to take center stage. After Tyson Wahl fouled Rowe near the edge of the area, Tierney and Lee Nguyen both set up to take the free kick. On Drew Fischer’s signal, Nguyen looked ready to rip it, but instead ran over the ball, which sat there perfectly still until Tierney followed up and ripped it over the wall and into the back of the net in the 51st minute.
“I think we’ve got some good options [on set-piece situations] -- right footers, left footers, that can play different kinds of balls,” Tierney said. “If you can have different guys, with different looks and balls coming in at different heights and angles, it makes it difficult for any team we play against.”
Statistics show that Jay Heaps’ squad has been one of the best in the conference in scoring from set pieces. During the regular season, the club collected 11 goals from the set piece, one shy of Sporting Kansas City’s conference-best 12.
Of course, few expected the Revolution to be so dangerous on dead-ball situations on Saturday. After all, it was the Crew, with free-kick artist Federico Higuain at their disposal, who were supposed be the better team in that department.
Nevertheless, the Revolution showed that all of the hours in training dedicated to set pieces didn’t go to waste. Quite the opposite, in fact. According to Tierney, the amount of time spent on those situations bolstered his coach’s confidence about what his team could do going into Saturday’s clash.
“The last thing Jay said before we went out of the game today was ‘Let’s get a set-piece goal,’” Tierney said, “because we know not only how important away goals are, but set-piece goals [as well], especially at this point of the season.”