In 2012, the Revolution often struggled to close out games and secure a result. Late game and even sometimes last minute mistakes became New England's unfortunate mantra, of sorts, leading to goals that cost them precious points. Saturday's pre-season match against the New York Red Bulls, however, seemed to have that usual script reversed as the Revs came back from a 1-goal deficit to finish strong and clinch a 3-1 victory in their second game in Desert Diamond Cup group play.
Jay Heaps opted to begin the match with a 4-man midfield including both Clyde Simms and Kalifa Cisse, two defensive-minded midfielders who often cluttered the center of the pitch and at time got in each other's way. Although Lee Nguyen and unsigned draft pick Donnie Smith were able to provide service and spark attacks from the wings, chances were few and New England was found on its back foot more often than not.
In the 11th minute, Juninho capitalized on a Revolution error when they attempted to play the ball out of the back but met pressure before they were able to get the ball out of their own half. The Brazilian struck a loose ball from 25 yards out that skipped past Matt Reis with ease. The first half saw more danger by way of Juninho and the rest of the Red Bulls, but New England was able to keep the deficit at just one goal heading into the half.
The Revs mustered new life in the second half, though, which might largely be attributed to the inclusion of Scott Caldwell who was subbed on in place of Clyde Simms. With the forward-thinking Caldwell paired alongside the defensive Cisse, New England's opportunities were really adding up. The first pay-off was an equalizing goal by way of a penalty kick in the 52nd minute, which was awarded when Jamison Olave got a hand to a Donnie Smith cross into the box. Lee Nguyen stepped up and buried it with class.
But they weren't done there. Donnie Smith came through again, providing a secondary cross from Lee Nguyen's initial free-kick that found the head of Jerry Bengtson's head at the pack-post, giving New England the 2-1 lead. For Revs fans, Bengtson's goal was a welcome sight after seeing their resident Designated Player's success with the Honduran National Team but craving for the same success to translate for New England as well. Let's hope that this is a sign of more good things to come from him.
Donnie Smith's effectiveness in this match bears noting as well. The still unsigned rookie was largely responsible for both of the Revs' first two goals, making an even further case for a contract and perhaps even some significant first-team minutes in 2013. His ability to cross balls into the box with precision when under pressure and while in tight spaces is a trait that Jay Heaps will surely be hard-pressed to pass up.
Although they were up by a goal, the Revs continued to put pressure on New York well into the second half. Solid shifts from Bilal Duckett, Matt Horth, Andy Dorman, and Juan Toja all contributed to the Revolution's second-half dominance. Toja, in particular, was highly active and made himself a real nuisance for the New York midfield. In the 88th minute, Australian trialist Marko Jesic connected with Toja on a Revolution counter-attack and sealed the deal with a 3rd unanswered goal. Jesic, not unlike Donnie Smith, is certainly making a case for himself with his production thus far in the Desert Diamond Cup and it stands to reason that Jay Heaps and his staff will be looking long and hard at the striker/winger as they finalize their 30-man roster for the upcoming season.
With this result, the Revolution climb to 2nd place in the Desert Diamond Cup standings, and are now in prime position to make it to the final next Saturday which will be aired live on NBC Sports Network. They must first secure a result against Real Salt Lake on Wednesday night.
Desert Diamond Cup: New York Red Bulls vs New England Revolution - LIVE (via mls)