With a place in the Desert Diamond Cup Final on the line, the New England Revolution laid a last-minute egg in Tucson on Wednesday night, conceding two goals in two minutes before the final whistle to fall 2-3 to Real Salt Lake. Andy Dorman and A.J. Soares provided the goals for the Revolution, earning a 2-1 lead after Devon Sandoval's opener for RSL, but Alvaro Saborio and Khari Stephenson stole the full points in the end.
The really disappointing part about this game was that the Revs absolutely deserved to win. Despite going down 1-0 in the first half, play during that 45 minutes was pretty even with few chances for either side, giving New England a real chance to take hold of the game in the second half. They did exactly that, scoring twice early in the half to get the lead and generally bossing play from there. That's how it should have ended, but in a fashion all-too-familiar from last season, the Revs let it slip away.
Looking at the goals that were conceded, blame has to be laid entirely at the feet of defensive lapses. Bobby Shuttleworth's spilled rebound on Sebastian Velasquez's shot in the first half put the ball on a platter for Sandoval, and while the rest of the Revs defense ball-watched (including Jose Goncalves, Sandoval's marker, who was easily shrugged off his half-hearted attempt to track the run), the rookie buried it from close range.
On the second goal, give credit to Saborio's good footwork and blistering shot, but the ball should have been cleared. The elements contributed - Clyde Simms might have closed Sabo down if he hadn't slipped in the snow - but the defense looked frozen, as though they wanted no part of challenging the striker and preventing or putting off the shot. The same could be said of the game-winner, where Stephenson was given entirely too much time to settle the ball at the top of the box, and then too much space to lace a shot. Arguably, the shot should have been saved, as well.
Apart from that, here's a quick list of things we learned from last night. After all, it's still preseason:
Scott Caldwell can play. This guy is absolutely fearless on the ball. I saw him get into situations where I thought he was going to turn the ball over in the defensive third, and instead he played his way out of trouble. In a team where it seems like the defenders are all too happy to hoof it upfield aimlessly when put under pressure, having a midfielder in the center who finds the controlled solutions to sticky situations might make all the difference in controlling the tempo and the game.
Jerry Bengtson still can't get on the same page with his teammates. I'm not sure why this is. Heaps and Burns pointed out at the Supporters' Summit that Jerry is the only player on the team right now who can't speak English, so maybe that's it, but the language of soccer is supposed to be international. Every time I see Jerry make a run in the opposite direction of the pass that gets played to him, I wonder why these things keep getting lost in translation. That said, while he wasted his best chance of the game, his involvement in the match was better than it has been. He still gives the ball away a lot, though, when not facing goal.
Gabe Latigue will not go quietly into the night. Latigue was the Revs' last supplemental draft pick. He's supposed to be an afterthought, a guy brought in to fill in the blanks in the intra-squad scrimmages early in the season before getting cut prior to First Kick. Instead, he's earning time and excelling while he's at it. Latigue showed versatility by moving to right-back on Wednesday, and demonstrated more-than-serviceable set piece skills, swinging in the free-kick that Soares headed in for the Revs' second goal. As it stands right now, you gotta believe it's tough not to give him at least a minimum contract.
The Cisse/Simms midfield combo is too negative. Both players got time last night, but in separate halves with different midfield partners. Both midfields were livelier, smoother, and better able to move the ball either out wide or up front, while still showing support for the defense. With Simms and Kalifa Cisse in the middle together, there's a lot of punch and a lot of defensive nous, but the creativity is desperately lacking. It's a selection headache, but a good one to have.
Juan Toja is coming around. All last year, Toja honestly looked old and slow. The game was moving faster than him, and he was reacting to it instead of being proactive and influencing it. The early parts of the preseason showed the same trend, but in this match (as in the last), it seems like he's starting to come around. We actually saw flashes of the tricky, flamboyant Juan Toja that Dallas fans were so enamored with a few years ago, and he has started to gel with the players around him. This can only be a good thing.
Missing anything? Have any observations of your own? Discuss it in the comments below!