FOXBOROUGH, Mass. - The New England Revolution once again failed to hold onto a lead, this time with a two-goal advantage, as they settled for a 2-2 draw with the New York Red Bulls at Gillette Stadium this evening. The Revs had spots of brilliant play and Milton Caraglio put on a striking clinic in the first half, scoring twice, but defensive lapses once again doomed them in a match that also saw two red cards and several questionable officiating decisions.
The intent was there early on when the Revs produced several chances in the opening ten minutes. Rajko Lekic nearly had a goal in the fourth minute and Caraglio himself missed a golden chance in the sixth minute when he beat Bouna Coundoul with a far-post header but the ball bounced over the crossbar. In the 15th minute, he made no mistake.
Benny Feilhaber played the ball into the Argentine from the right, and the striker took the ball forward before attempting to play it up to Lekic. It was deflected back and Caraglio, who is nicknamed "The Bull" in his native Argentina, collected the ball and muscled his way through the Red Bulls defense and had an effort on goal. Coundoul batted it away, but Milton recovered it again, shifted his feet, and coolly finished past the keeper for his first-ever MLS goal.
It didn't stop there. In the 37th, Kenny Mansally floated in an excellent free kick that Caraglio rose to meet and headed into the bottom corner. Coundoul managed to get a hand to it, but it was all in vain. "Honestly, it's a bittersweet moment," the goalscorer said through a translator after the match. "We didn't get the victory and we still have a lot to work on."
Milton appeared to be forming the beginnings of a fruitful partnership with Rajko Lekic, and although the Danish striker didn't score, the Revs as a whole looked far more dangerous with the two of them working together. "The truth is, it felt really good," Caraglio said of working with Lekic. "It's nice to find a striker who has similar characteristics and a similar style of play. We understand each other very well."
The potential did not go unnoticed. "[He] and Rajko, in the short time they've been together, look as though they'll do well together, which you look for," said Steve Nicol. "And obviously scoring two goals is great."
"In the first half, Rajko and Milton did great, they combined together, and hopefully they can stay healthy, both of them stay healthy and start working together," said the captain Shalrie Joseph. "Then they can form a good partnership.
In another milestone for Caraglio, tonight's match marked the first time he's played a full 90 minutes in a Revolution uniform. "I think I played well holding up for those 90 minutes," he said. He looked obviously gassed at the end of the match, but the fact that he's moved up to full-match fitness this quickly can mean nothing but good things for the Revs going forward.
What isn't good for the Revs going forward is the fact that they appear to lack the mental toughness to see out leads late in games. New England was 2-1 up as late as the 87th minute in this match, and though they were reduced to ten men when Mansally saw a second yellow, New York by that time was playing with the same handicap after Teemu Tainio was also given his marching orders (both justifiably, I might add). Somehow, some way, the Revolution need to figure out why they can't remain disciplined and hold the advantage all the way through a match.
"For more than three games, honestly, if you think about it, we've been fortunate enough that we've been able to take a lead in a game and we just can't hang onto the lead," said Joseph. "We just don't do enough to be happy at the end of the game.
"I don't know if it's our legs or if it's our brains, but ten, fifteen minutes to go we just start sinking back into a shell and we give them way too much time, way too much space to play. It comes back to hurt us."
Caraglio was also distraught by the final score despite his own premier performance. The striker was unenthusiastic in answering questions about himself and instead tried to focus on the team and the result as being important. "[I feel] very angry because it was, in my opinion, an easy match and we ended up making it difficult for ourselves," he said of the game.
As easy as it may have seemed when the Revs were up two-nil and controlling the match, things could very quickly have been different if New York had their way with the referees. Two apparently clear penalty calls were overlooked by Juan Guzman, the first near the end of the first half that may have changed the complexion of the match. Dax McCarty was brought down in the box by Bobby Shuttleworth, but Guzman's linesman told him it was a dive and the midfielder received a caution for his troubles rather than the penalty he probably deserved.
McCarty was again victimized later in the match when he was shouldered to the ground by Ryan Cochrane, and although one could argue it was a legitimate 50-50 challenge it looked a lot like a clumsy penalty. New York head coach Hans Backe had little to say about the second, but was clear in his opinions on the first: "[It] is 100% a penalty and probably a red card."
Either way, tonight's draw is the nail in the coffin for New England's playoff hopes. Even if they win out from here, their chances of qualifying at the end of the season still aren't encouraging, a concept not lost on Joseph: "Another couple of points slipped away, and in a couple of months we're all going to be sad because at the end of the day, if we aren't able to get to the playoffs, then this season is a waste."