With so many goals scored off of set pieces, a key component in a team's success is normally how well they defend free kicks.
This has been a staple of the New England Revolution's success in the past, but as MLSnet.com's Kyle McCarthy reports, the number of goals conceded thus far in the 2009 season has been as much a part of their downfall as their injuries.
Injuries might be the primary scourge in New England these days, but set pieces aren't all that far behind.
The number of goals conceded from set pieces (six) has yet to match the injury list (almost too many to count), but it has equaled the Revolution's 2008 tally and staked them to a considerable league lead -- second-place D.C. United have allowed three -- in that category. For a team that had defended set pieces well in its zonal marking system over the past few seasons, the glut of set-piece goals allowed surprised more than a few observers.
Combine that tendency to concede with an inability to score from dead ball situations, after scoring a league-high 10 times in 2008, and there are some aerial issues in the mix along with those injury worries.
In order to avoid further punishment from deadball situations, Revolution defender Darrius Barnes said his side needs to do a better job of sorting themselves out before the set piece gets taken.
"They've either been great goals or it's been a lack of communication on our part," Barnes said. "We need to make sure we communicate. We need to call out our guys. We need to do that early so we can get set up."
Getting set up isn't everything when it comes to defending set pieces. Once the set piece is struck, players have to attack the ball with conviction rather than hesitating. Too often, that hesitant split-second can lead to a goal.
New England midfielder Jeff Larentowicz said he and his teammates need to act more aggressively when the service arrives.
"I think people are not going to the ball," Larentowicz said. "We're indecisive when the ball's coming into the box. You have to be a little of an animal to go after balls in the box. You have to put your face on the line. It's scary to some people, so you have to face it and do your job. Those are the decisions you have to make."
If those decisions don't work out, Barnes said the next course of action comes from denying opposing attackers the chance to capitalize on those mistakes.
"You have to get a hand or a body on somebody," Barnes said. "If you can't get to it, you have to make sure they don't get to it either."