The New England Revolution improved their all-time home opener record at Gillette Stadium to 8-3-1 tonight with a vital 1-0 win over the visiting Portland Timbers. The win marked Jay Heaps' first-ever competitive victory as a head coach, and also saw milestones attained by Shalrie Joseph and Matt Reis.
Apparently, the wait for the first goal of 2012 had gone on long enough, and the Revs made it happen almost immediately. Just 28 seconds in, Chris Tierney found himself all alone on the left and delivered an excellent curling cross into the penalty area. Saer Sene rose highest in the middle and headed over Troy Perkins for his first MLS goal, and the Revs first of 2012.
"Saer's a player that we've seen a lot from in preseason," said Heaps. "And he's not 100% fit yet. I think that as he gets adjusted to the physicality of our league and the travel, just the entire game, I think you'll see that he's a player that can adapt.
Going a goal up so early can be both a blessing and a curse - it's a quick advantage and it can boost confidence, but it can also make the game difficult to settle and create a dangerous sense of complacency. Heaps was sensitive to these pitfalls, and maintained that his team did very well to ride out the period immediately following the goal.
"When you get a goal like that, it releases stress," he said. "But then the game becomes harder because they're coming at you. It took us a little bit of time to settle in, but I think as the game went on there were things against us and things that were hurting us, but the most important thing was that when it got tough, we got tougher."
Portland was quick to strike back, with Darlington Nagbe forcing a save from Reis off a free kick in the fifth minute. The Timbers offense struggled to create chances, though, mostly through the inspired play in defense of A.J. Soares and his partner, captain Shalrie Joseph, forced to play out of position due to injuries. Joseph, for his credit, was at his imperious best.
"Shalrie's just a natural footballer, he can play anywhere," said Soares of his colleague. "He brought a lot of leadership to the backline. I thought he did a really great job tonight, he led the group, and really led us to this win."
Soares and Joseph were left with the unenviable task of trying to contain Portland's marquee goal poacher and Designated Player, Kris Boyd. Boyd, the all-time leading goalscorer in the Scottish Premier League, had considerable difficulty in this match, and when he did find chances, seemed to lack the lethal scoring touch he so often exhibits.
"I know how good of a goalscorer he is, and we saw a glimpse of that tonight," Shalrie remarked. "It's a physical challenge to mark him in the box, and I look forward to it. He's such a great goalscorer, and for me and A.J. to not let him score anything tonight is just great to our credit."
New England was not without chances to put more points on the board. Lee Nguyen was mesmerizing in midfield and on the wings, dribbling through Portland defenders with ease and helping set up his teammates in dangerous areas. Kelyn Rowe had perhaps the Revs' best chance of the night in the 43rd minute when he was sent through on goal all by himself, but Rowe failed to pull the trigger and in the end was forced by Perkins and defender Eric Brunner to essentially run the ball out past the byline.
Still, the one goal was all the Revs needed to finish out the game and get the shutout. Matt Reis made three saves, the second of which was the 1000th of his MLS career.
"I didn't know till they told me after the game," said Reis. "It's nice. It just means that I've been playing for a long time and faced a lot of shots, but it's nice to have the longevity and keep making saves. I think the more I make saves, the more the team has a chance to win, like we did tonight."
Shalrie also hit a milestone, passing Jay Heaps on the all-time minutes played list in a Revolution uniform. "It feels good to have that sort of longevity with this team and this league, and I look forward to playing a lot more minutes," he said afterwards.
Timbers defender Hanyer Mosquera was forced to leave the match in the first half after colliding with Blake Brettschneider. He was removed on a stretcher, and later checked into a local hospital for facial injuries. Kevin Alston also took one on the chin, as it were, when he was kicked in the face by Franck Songo'o while the latter was attempting an audacious - but dangerous - bicycle kick. Alston, who played part of last season with a face mask, appears to have a broken nose, and did not return.
The Revs are in action again next Saturday when they travel to the Home Depot Center to take on the LA Galaxy. The match will be televised at 11:00 PM EST, and The Bent Musket will of course have the coverage.