FOXBOROUGH, MA - In their final home game of the season, The New England Revolution did not go out with a bang, but rather a disappointing fizzle. Despite a decent first half, the Revs came into the second half of the game down just a goal but reverting back to their same old ways-poor passing, scrappy challenges, and mental lapses galore. With their victory tonight, the Columbus Crew have clinched a playoff berth, thus firming up the top 3 Eastern Conference spots which also include the Philadelphia Union and Sporting Kansas City.
The Revs came out swinging, stringing together some nice plays and some advances in the attacking third, with Benny Feilhaber, Ryan Guy, and Diego Fagundez all facilitating some impressive opportunities. The Revs defense forced the Crew offside multiple times throughout the game, and in the first half seemed to be a pretty effective strategy as all three of Columbus' forwards were called offside on some dangerous looking advances up field. This eventually came to bite the boys in blue in the 31st minute when Darrius Barnes was forced to track back in panic mode and hunt down Andres Mendoza who got through the patchy back line on a hard break towards goal. He sured up his opportunity and got the ball past Bobby Shuttleworth for the Crew's first goal; but it would not be their last.
The most chances of the night for the Revs came in the first half. Shots from Monsef Zerka and Shalrie Joseph were good, but not enough to affect the scoreline.
Shortly after Mendoza's first goal, Milton Caraglio was in the spotlight in Columbus' end where he battled off a sea of yellow shirts to keep possession, but unfortunately he had little support from his teammates and the Argentine eventually surrendered the ball despite his hard work. It was, however, a flash of brilliance which, if anything, is encouraging and one of very few positive takeaways from this match.
In the 35th minute, Bobby Shuttleworth came up big and sacrificed his body to stop another goal-bound run by Emilio Renteria. It was one of several very impressive saves from Shuttleworth who had arguably the best night of any other Revolution player.
Shortly into the second half, Columbus was once again getting caught offside, clearly thirsty for more in order to assure their playoff position. From there the game got quite cantankerous and injuries started piling up. Julius James took a hit shortly into the half and not long after Shalrie Joseph took a knock himself from Emmanuel Ekpo, who subsequently was carded.
Columbus's second goal came by way of Dilly Duka who beat Kevin Alston in the 59th minute on an unassisted run and took a wide shot at an angle that crept assuredly into the net.
In the 63rd minute it was Alston again who got beat, this time by Andres Mendoza who made the most of an excellent pass from Renteria and tucked the ball away.
From there on out it was more scrappy playing from both sides which did nothing but hurt the Revs' chances of earning anything back. In the 68th minute the Revolution made a double substitution, taking out Zerka and Caraglio in favor of Zack Schilawski and Rajko Lekic, who has been out almost a month with a left ankle injury that he sustained against the Portland Timbers on September 16th. The two offered little to enhance the Revolution's attacking chances as Columbus dominated possession and tempo and saw out their win.
After the game, Benny Feilhaber offered an introspective analysis of the team's outlook moving forward after this disappointing and difficult loss at home to finish out the 2011 season. "Our team has plenty of faults, as we've shown throughout the year," Feilhaber admitted, "[but] we need to look within ourselves, within our team, [and] organization and see the places that we can improve for next season, and I think that's the most important thing right now."
When asked whether he felt it was important to finish out the season officially with 3 points against Toronto FC next weekend, Benny said, "In the big picture, that's not the important thing. The bigger thing is working hard in the offseason to get the parts that we need to make our team competitive for next season."
The Revolution face a number of uncertainties heading into this offseason, and at this point it seems that getting past this final game against Toronto and being able to put this season behind them will be the best thing for them and will allow the team to get to work on focusing for the 2012 season-a season that surely the players and fans alike will hope is more fruitful than 2011.