The New England Revolution pulled off what some (*cough*) may have said was nigh-on impossible: they bounced back from a horrible loss last week to defeat the Philadelphia Union at Gillette Stadium by a score of 2-0. The first goal snapped a 540-minute goalless streak for Revolution players, and the win was the Revs' first over Philly since the latter team entered the league in 2010.
Diego Fagundez did the honors in the 61st minute, followed by an opportunistic strike from Lee Nguyen in the 71st. Overall, however, it was the manner in which the Revolution went about their business that was most impressive. For the first time in 2013, they looked like a truly dangerous attacking team.
"I think the offense was amazing tonight," said Kelyn Rowe, who notched an assist on the first goal. "We showed a lot of heart, a lot of good plays, a lot of good touches, and we found chances to score."
Amid the strong emotional distractions of the first home game since the Marathon bombings and Kevin Alston's leukemia diagnosis, Jay Heaps elected to change things up in his system by employing more of a 4-1-4-1 approach. He moved Rowe and Lee Nguyen to the middle of the pitch, playing something of a double-playmaker scheme and adding natural width through Fagundez and Ryan Guy.
The move nearly paid immediate dividends. The first 35 minutes were a clinic in chance creation, with New England rattling off seven shots (eight on the half), forcing two saves and giving the Union some serious scares. Guy especially was having success down the left, and while Rowe was wasteful with several chances in the half, he demonstrated real ability to put himself in dangerous positions.
"I thought we were playing some good stuff in midfield," said Heaps. "I thought Kelyn and Lee did well, and Kalifa [Cisse] cleaned it up behind there. Overall, I thought our front-to-back movement was pretty good, and I thought that we felt the goal was coming; it was just a matter of when.
"It just felt like it was gonna come. We were about to sacrifice a live chicken pretty soon if one of those didn't go in in the second half," the coach joked.
Poultry everywhere can rest easy, because in the second half, they did go in, the first after some very intelligent buildup by the team's young and creative core. Lee Nguyen drove down the field with the ball in the middle of the attacking third, playing in Rowe down the right channel. The second-year man lifted his head and found Fagundez lurking near the top of the six, and the young man with such high expectations on his shoulders didn't flinch, burying the ball with a clinical right-footed strike.
The 61st-minute goal was the first scored by a Revolution player since Jerry Bengtson's winner against Chicago back in the first match of the season. All told, it had been 540 minutes since a Revolution player scored an MLS goal (the lone goal in last week's 4-1 loss was an own goal). On such an emotional night, scoring that slump-breaking goal was extremely rewarding for the young midfielder.
"Oh, it felt great," said Fagundez. "I bet everyone even thought about that. We've been waiting for something like that for a while. We all wanted it, and it was up to someone to make a play. Kelyn just gave a good ball to me, and I just had to finish it."
The relief from the goal was palpable. It was the Revs' first home tally of the season, and in front of a crowd of over 18,000, including first-responders from the Boston Marathon tragedy who were invited by the Revolution organization, it was clear what the goal meant to both the players and the fans.
Rather than stop there, however, the Revs continued to press the issue. Ten minutes later, their pressure paid off when Nguyen capped off his Man of the Match-caliber night with an opportunistic goal that was all his own making.
Nguyen received the ball in the left channel near the edge of the attacking third. Seeing space before him, he cut toward the "D" and drove into the heart of the Union defense. As defenders converged on him, substitute Saer Sene - making another appearance in his rehab from ACL surgery and again showing his offensive instincts - made a quick diagonal run across Nguyen's face, and the playmaker slipped the ball to him in the box. Sene's shot was saved by Zac MacMath, but the rebound fell to Nguyen, who had continued his run to the far post. The finish was elementary.
The match was not all sunshine and roses, however. In second-half stoppage time, Andrew Farrell made a lung-bursting run down the right side with the ball at his feet, and when he went to cut into the box, Union midfielder Michael Farfan planted a very physical challenge on him that left Farrell crumpled in a heap. Play continued on for some time afterward, despite Farrell writhing in pain, until MacMath finally put the ball out. The Revs' rookie had to be helped off the pitch and did not return.
"It's not good to see," said Heaps. "I'll look at it on tape, but it just didn't feel right, that play. When it was, the 90th minute, or 90th-plus, and you're up 2-0, it just...it didn't feel right."
No foul was whistled and no card was issued for the challenge. However, given the aggressive nature of the tackle and - though technically it maybe should not be a consideration - whether or not Farrell is seriously injured, the MLS Disciplinary committee may take retroactive measures against Farfan.
After the match, though, it was difficult not to feel an aura of relief and satisfaction from both coach and players. It was not only a win, but an aggressive and complete performance.
"I've got a smile on my face," said Heaps, and he was smiling. "So that counts."