Stevie Nicol was all smiles in the post-match press conference tonight, and why not? Three points, no matter how earned, are always the desired haul at home and the New England Revolution managed to get that.
The general consensus, though, is that it came following a worse performance than last week's draw against Colorado. "To be honest, I feel like we created more chances against Colorado," mused Benny Feilhaber. "But it was about actually putting the ball in the net today and we were able to do that."
Though the Revs managed to grow into the game and became dominant for long stretches later on, the first half showing was really what made the performance look inferior to last week. At times it looked like the Vancouver Whitecaps were the side with more verve and menace as New England struggled to keep the ball and maintain possession.
"The first half particularly was certainly not our best as far as [possession] was concerned," said Nicol. "When you give the ball away you put yourself under pressure, and we were just encouraging them."
It appeared that the Revs were having difficulty getting on the same page early on, and the opening thirty or so minutes especially were characterized by costly giveaways and missed runs. Normally sure-footed passers like Feilhaber and Shalrie Joseph were misplacing the ball and linking up with Rajko Lekic up top was proving totally impossible.
For as bad as that first half was, though, the Revs must have heard something from Nicol over the interval that inspired them because they came out like a different team in the second half. Feilhaber in particular was all over the pitch, spraying passes indiscriminately from touchline to touchline and repeatedly springing Chris Tierney, Zak Boggs, and substitute Sainey Nyassi free on dangerous flank runs.
"Second half was better," Nicol said in typical blunt fashion. "We made some decent passes and kept the ball. We forced them back. I think the second half was a lot better, but we can still be better."
Benny Feilhaber, who has yet to score a goal in Revolution colors this season, created the only goal of the match by earning a 49th minute penalty. Matt Reis may earn man-of-the-match honors for several very good saves - the best of which came in the 89th minute off a well-targeted volley from Long Tan - but Feilhaber was the driving force of New England's second-half effort.
He was also the center of controversy apart from the penalty when he had a potential second goal of the match called back for offside. "Second goal was a great move, a great finish, and he's onside," Nicol commented wryly, and he was entitled to gripe. Replays showed that Feilhaber was at least a foot onside when Lekic played him in.
Even if it is slightly disappointing to see the Revs have a slight relapse after last week where they played so well through midfield, it's important to remember the positives from this match. It was their second straight shutout. They were able to turn things around after a bland first half to become dangerous and dominant in the second.
And of course, they won. As Feilhaber said, "I think we got it in a scrappy way, but we got it."