On Saturday night in Foxboro, the New England Revolution controlled their playoff destiny. A win would send them into fourth place regardless of the other results on the weekend, while a draw or a loss could condemn them as far down as seventh. But, as has been seen repeatedly throughout the season, the Revs didn't get it done in crunch time, coughing up a lead and falling to a 1-1 draw with the Houston Dynamo.
Saer Sene's fifth goal of the season gave the Revs the lead in the second half, but an alarming defensive gaffe handed it right back through Will Bruin just 11 minutes later. Despite taking hold of the game after Juan Agudelo was introduced as a second-half substitute, the Revs appeared rattled by Houston's goal and never recovered.
"I thought it was a good effort and great energy from our group," said Jay Heaps after the match. "We played a tough opponent tonight, and I thought we had opportunities to close the game out but Houston's a really good team and they hold on. Unfortunately we didn't take our chances as well as we can, and it's a point, but at the same time we need more points at home."
The first half was an exercise in very boring soccer for both teams. Houston had the only shot on target through Giles Barnes, who headed a Brad Davis cross right to Matt Reis. Both teams threatened sporadically, but none of the efforts required a save.
There was one notable play by the Revs, however, that nearly resulted in a spectacular goal. New England had won a dangerous free kick in the 39th minute, and Lee Nguyen and Chris Tierney stood over it. Rather than have either of them put it directly on goal or into the box, Nguyen laid off for Tierney, who ripped a left footed shot that curled around the near side of the wall and in toward Tally Hall's near post. Unfortunately for the Revs, it clanged off the post.
"We've kind of been waiting for the right opportunity in close to the 18 [to use that play]," said Tierney. "You know, I thought it was in when I hit it for sure, but credit to Tally Hall. I don't know how he kept it out, but, great save on his part. Unlucky."
In the second half, it was Agudelo's inclusion that provided the immediate spark for the Revs. He replaced a disappointing Dimitry Imbongo in the 62nd minute, and immediately Houston had to adjust to respect his attacking ability.
Perhaps it was due to the attention they needed to give to Agudelo that set up the goal just three minutes later. With blue shirts swarming the box, Nguyen shoved a little pass from the top of the box into space, where Sene, who was flying in from wide right, was able to run onto it and open his hips, blasting his shot left-footed inside the far post.
Sene celebrated by running toward the stadium gates, to the bemusement of all.
"I was just...I'm used to scoring goals," said Sene. "And sometimes you score goals, it doesn't...I can't explain, you know, all the times I score goals I do something new. Today I ran outside. [laughing]. Tomorrow maybe I'm going to take off my jersey, I don't know."
The Revs appeared to enjoy some dominance at that point, with Kelyn Rowe forcing a save out of Tally Hall with a deflected effort in the 70th minute. In the 71st, Nguyen nearly set up another goal, playing yet another simple ball into the box. This time it was Diego Fagundez on the end of it, but he pulled his shot mystifyingly wide of the far post in an uncharacteristic bit of poor finishing from the Uruguayan.
Then, somehow, the Revs defense found a way to let Houston back in. A.J. Soares went down at midfield with an apparent injury as Cam Weaver chased a goal kick to the byline. His low cross into the box was intercepted by Andrew Farrell, but the young rookie's clearance was somewhere between ineffective and atrocious, finding Boniek Garcia at the top of the box. Garcia slipped the ball to Will Bruin at the penalty spot, virtually unmarked due to the absence of Soares, who finished past Reis to equalize.
"We could have done better defensively on the goal we gave up," said Heaps.
New England pushed hard for an equalizer in the final minutes. A driven cross from Tierney in the 86th minute spawned three consecutive chances, as Fagundez had a close-range effort blocked, Sene had a follow-up karate-kick volley blocked, and Nguyen sent a final volley well over the bar. In the 90th minute, a Kelyn Rowe throw-in that hit the ground and skipped toward the box found Nguyen, who chipped a cross to Agudelo. The striker's falling bike kick was from point-blank and on target, but Hall was right there to catch it.
Saer Sene finished up the chances with a free kick in stoppage time that had bend and looked dangerous, but whistled just wide.
"I think we tried to push," said Sene. "We tried to push to score the goal, but for me it wasn't enough. We can do better, but the team was tired, and Houston is a good team, too. Now it was 1-1, we can't come back. The game is finished and we have to be focused for New York."
As expected, the match was physical and a bit chippy, with Houston electing to foul the Revs when the home side found themselves on the break. Referee Edvin Jurisevic seemed happy to let some questionable things go, but overall appeared to call a predictable and even match.
Houston still managed to out-foul the Revs 10-6, and it was obviously part of their game plan.
"It didn't take a genius to look at the field and see what was happening," said Heaps. "First play of the game, [Imbongo] gets his ankle rolled up on."
Imbongo responded well, keeping his temper in check and avoiding any cards before being subbed off in the 62nd minute. The Revs as a club, however, did not, as they failed to make the Dynamo pay for their fouling by scoring on set pieces. Apart from the Tierney chance and Sene's effort at the end, there was a corner kick that saw A.J. Soares whiff on a free header that would likely have resulted in a goal.
It's an issue all too familiar to the Revs and their fans, as the club has been famously impotent on set pieces for several seasons now.
"I think that it happened to us a little bit last year," said Heaps. "We get on a little bit of a roll and we're really tough on the break, so what they do is they foul us, and they stop it. We need to be better at punishing teams that are going to foul us 25 yards away from goal."
With the draw and Philadelphia's recent win, New England's road to the playoffs got much more difficult. They remain mired in sixth place with four matches left, three of which will be played away from home. That run begins next Saturday against New York at Red Bull Arena.
More from The Bent Musket:
- Revolution vs. Dynamo 2013: Live Game Thread Part Three
- Revolution vs. Dynamo 2013: Know Thy Enemy Part Three
- Revolution vs. Dynamo 2013: Don't Let Dimitry Imbongo See Orange (or Red) on Saturday
- Breakers Off-Season Report: Projecting the 2014 Roster
- The 3rd Yellow - Revolution vs. DC United: Revs Actually Scored a Penalty Kick