When I first started watching the Revs, I noticed that – despite having players on the bench who I thought played better, or faster, or more creatively – the Revs would stick with their old standbys and get burned again and again. I began to question why I kept seeing Kevin Alston out there. And Pat Phelan? Zack Schilawski instead of Ilija Stolica? And hey, while we’re at it, what’s so great about Shalrie Joseph? Were these figures of a bygone era, whose coach couldn’t see that they’d outlasted their use?
Over time, I learned why a lot of this was the way it was. Kevin Alston has made some rough mistakes this season, but he’s also one of the fastest defenders I’ve seen in our back line. Shalrie Joseph is a veteran, and tends to make good decisions. The few really bad ones (a back-pass inside the box when surrounded by the opponent? really?) are the exceptions. But more than that, he seems to lead the team well. Games where Shalrie is suspended clearly suffer significantly in his absence. I’m not saying these guys are great, or that they’re terrible – just that I see why they’re out there.
I’m going to gloss over the Serbs (that’s a story for another time), which brings me to tonight, in the 4‒4 draw at Philadelphia. We were up 4‒1 over the Union at the half. In the 58th minute, Stevie Nicol subbed out Rajko Lekić for Pat Phelan. Now, I like Lekić, and I want him to succeed, but he’s obviously had trouble since he got to the Revs. He’s scored more than most, but not enough for his position, or for his reputation. Still! Tonight, he was having a decent night, probably one of his better nights.
And fifty-eight minutes into the game – just thirteen minutes into the second half – Stevie Nicol pulls him for Pat Phelan. The same Stevie Nicol who has let three first-half leads against decent teams slip away in the previous three games. And the same Pat Phelan who needlessly headed the ball past the back line to lead to Houston’s equalizing corner.
What I’ve gathered about Pat Phelan is that he’s a very physical player. I’ve heard him referred to as a “destroyer” type. I like the passion, I like that he’s willing to get right in there, and boy, I really hope he’s OK after that knock tonight – but game after game, it seems like he’s proven more of a liability than an asset. And tonight, he did just that.
When the Nicol pulled off a fuming – and swearing visibly, in English (I hear you man, but what, no Danish? No “јебем ти сунце” maybe?) – Rajko Lekić in the fifty-eighth minute, it betrayed an all-too-familiar tactic for the Revolution: bunkering. Pulling a striker for a deep midfielder invited the Union down to Matt Reis’s corner for the next 40 minutes, and they pounced on the invitation.
But in case that wasn’t enough, Phelan soon took down Le Toux inside the box for a PK. If a bit accidental, it was a clear penalty, and Phelan’s first real impact on the field. From there on, he was clearly desperate to make up for that lost point, and threw himself into every play he could. That ended with the unfortunate kick to the head that saw him taken off the field. This, in turn, left the Revs with ten men on the field. That was, as Taylor Twellman will tell you, a smart choice medically, but ten men is ten men. And we all know how that turned out.
So I don’t blame our defeat on Pat Phelan. I think the decision to break up a successful, pressuring forward line for a reckless midfielder and a clear strategy of bunkering led to our eventual concessions and another embarrassing result. But the moral of this story, for me, isn’t that bunkering doesn’t work – we knew that. And watching Twitter tonight, I’m pretty sure we all knew it was coming, too – although maybe not so in the fifty-eighth damned minute. What I take away from this, tonight, is that while many other players – even struggling ones (I’m pulling for Coria and Nyassi) – have shown their value somewhere on the field, the liability I’ve seen in Phelan this year far outweighs any of his potential benefits.
I think this has become far more of a condemnation than I meant, but I guess I stick by it: what’s the deal with Pat Phelan? Why do I keep seeing him out there? Is it just because we don’t have enough good midfielders or defenders on our bench, or in our reserves? Or am I missing what makes him a first-team player?