It was a nail-biter at Gillette Stadium tonight where the New England Revolution overcame a first-half deficit to defeat their conference rivals D.C. United, keeping their post-season hopes alive and sending the largest crowd of the season home with smiles on their faces. The Revolution managed to find two goals in the second half by way of Diego Fagundez, his 11th of the season, and Lee Nguyen's penalty kick. With the win, the Revs returned to playoff position, now sitting 5th in the Eastern Conference.
The Revs dug themselves an early hole-something they're not exactly unfamiliar with this season-courtesy of an uncharacteristic Scott Caldwell own goal in the 11th minute. Caldwell appeared to be trying to keep Luis Silva's cross away from any ensuing runners in the box, but none were coming and his clearance ended up goal-bound with Reis off his line.
But then the Revs started knocking on the door after a lackluster opening 20 minutes. The home team was able to string together some good looking passes and earn a corner kick in the 20th minute, but the short corner amounted to nothing. Four minutes later, Dimitry Imbongo was sent into the box by Andrew Farrell and managed to shake off three defenders to get a shot off, but it was strayed wide. Then, in the 26th minute, New England found another opportunity in the attacking third as Lee Nguyen showed some great, patient hold-up play in the box to pick out a smart pass to the back post where Saer Sene was running to, but his sliding boot was just a second too late to connect with the ball.
The drama continued ten-fold in the second half with the Revs coming out at a much higher tempo and clearly pushing for an equalizer.
"I think we came to the locker room (at halftime) and we all said that it's a must-win game," said Fagundez post-game. "We're in the playoffs right now. This game was part of our playoff games, so it was very important. We all came out here and we knew that we had to give it everything we had."
After a series of cornerkicks, Imbongo managed to switch the play to the opposite side of the 18-yard-box where Chris Tierney was lying in wait, but his shot was unfortunately nowhere near on frame. Then in the 55th minute Lee Nguyen was brought down in the box by D.C. defender Dejan Jakovic and referee Carlos Rivera whistled for the penalty. Nguyen stepped up to take the PK but Bill Hamid read it the whole way and saved the shot effortlessly.
Just when it seemed like all hope was lost in this one, the Revs came right back from the disappointment of missing the PK and found a way to equalize. In the 58th minute Saer Sene sent Fagundez in towards goal from a solid build-up and the 18-year-old, who was just nearly onside, buried his shot past Hamid for the Revolution's equalizing goal.
But knowing they needed the full three points from this one, New England continued to rally and try to find the winning goal. The Revs earned a slew of corner kicks (11 total in the 2nd half) but none were able to find the back of the net. Lee Nguyen had two consecutive opportunities to put the Revolution up by a goal but his shots from distance were denied by both the goal post and by Hamid respectively.
In the 81st minute, D.C. found a bit of a rhythm of their own which resulted in Conor Doyle finding his way on goal from a United counter attack. Matt Reis came off his line to cut the angle but Doyle opted to chip his shot over the Revolution net-minder. What seemed to surely be a second goal for United was denied by Reis in the end after the veteran fled back towards goal and pushed the ball wide before ever crossing the line.
The drama did not end there. In the 83rd minute Nguyen was awarded his second penalty of the night when D.C. substitute Lewis Neal knocked him down in the box. Nguyen did well to put this one past Hamid and the Revs got their all-important lead.
"Well, I knew it was a mind game because he read the first one," Nguyen said after the match. "I was thinking about going down the middle after that. And it was just great to have the confidence from my teammates and the coaching staff... that was all I needed."
With Nguyen's goal, the Revs only had to see the game out, and that's just what they did. As the final whistle blew, a welcome sigh of relief was felt around the stadium as the Revs successfully fought back for only their second come-from-behind win of the season.
"We've come together as a team and we've been through a lot already," Reis said after the match, "and there's five games left and we know what we have to do. And there's going to be games like this, there's going to be games where we go down and we've got to fight back and we really showed a lot of resilience tonight."
Celebrations after tonight's win will certainly be deserved, but the hard work is far from over as New England hosts the Houston Dynamo next Saturday in a critical match-up with significant playoff implications.