Sunday afternoon was a beautiful, clear day, and Gillette Stadium packed in a season-best crowd of nearly 24,000 people, but the New England Revolution did not bring their "A" game. Instead, the Revs suffered their first home loss of the season, falling 2-0 to the New York Red Bulls.
In a match where the Revs outshot the Red Bulls 22-8, it was New York's two shots on goal that punished the wasteful home side. Eric Alexander capitalized on a first-half error from Bobby Shuttleworth and Peguy Luyindula took advantage of lax defending in the second to bury New England, earning their first win at Gillette Stadium since 2002.
"Obviously a disappointing result," said an understandably-taciturn Jay Heaps after the match. "We weren't thrilled with how it went down tonight. It's a tough result at home."
The Revs could have been on the score sheet inside the first minute. Lee Nguyen jetted down the right flank and played a lateral ball across the top of the box to Patrick Mullins, who lashed a left-footed shot that forced the first of Luis Robles' ten saves on the night.
New England continued to threaten from that point forward, but were undone when New York scored a somewhat-bizarre goal against the run of play. Lloyd Sam launched a free kick to the far post, and Shuttleworth came off of his line to collect it. The ball looked long for the keeper to begin with, but while in no-man's land he collided with Andy Dorman, leaving a wide-open goal for Eric Alexander to head the ball into.
Even after the goal, the Revs continued to dominate the run of play. They pushed through the first half with a series of dangerous-looking chances, testing Robles in the 22nd through a Nguyen shot. Two minutes later, Chris Tierney uncorked a laser from distance that Robles parried over the bar. Bunbury nearly blasted a close-range shot past Robles from a tight angle, but the New York ‘keeper was equal to it. Perhaps the Revs' best chance of the night came in 44th minute when Diego Fagundez collected the ball from Patrick Mullins at the top of the D and used his acceleration to dribble around the D and into the box, where he somehow bent around the ball to launch an effort for the far post that deflected back into the penalty area. An inch to the right, perhaps, and it would have been a goal.
In the second half, Heaps made a surprising move by pulling Mullins and inserting Kelyn Rowe, shifting Teal Bunbury to the center-forward spot. When asked about the substitution, Heaps described it only as "tactical."
In the ensuing 25 minutes, the Revs played pretty much the same way. They peppered the Red Bulls goal with chances, but most of them ended up straight at Robles. Andrew Farrell was one-on-one with the keeper in the 50th minute but somehow contrived to stuff the ball into Robles' chest, and just one minute later, Nguyen rolled a tame left-footed shot to Robles from inside the box after connecting with Rowe.
Rowe had a slow shot easily saved by Robles in the 70th minute. Ironically, perhaps the chance of the half for the Revs came from a Red Bulls player in the 71st minute, when A.J. Soares whiffed on a Tierney free kick and the ball spilled to Ibrahim Sekagya at the far post, who nearly put it past his own ‘keeper. Robles, again, was equal to it, making probably his most-acrobatic and impressive save of the evening.
New York sealed the deal with yet another set piece, this time taking advantage of slack defending rather than goalkeeper error or miscommunication. A free kick reached the top of the box, where it was nodded back out toward the midfield. Peguy Luyindula sized it up in acres of space, and with no one coming forward to close him down, ripped a half-volley that blasted past Shuttleworth and in.
The Revs' evening was summed up in the fourth minute of second-half stoppage time, when Kelyn Rowe had a free header that was going on-frame blocked in the box - by an offside Saer Sene.
When asked what the culprit was for tonight's loss, Heaps blamed the finishing.
"I think it was probably not finishing our chances, but I have to go back and look at it," he said. "I believe, I don't know the exact stats, but I don't think they had a ton [of chances]. Two set piece goals, and we had chances to score goals and we didn't."
Essentially, the Red Bulls turned the Revs' best game plans against them. New York broke out quickly on the counter and made the most of their chances. New England had the better possession (53%), were the more accurate passers (82.3% compared to 76.9%), and also put more efforts on target (9-2). Regardless, New York took the mistakes that the Revs gave them and rode those mistakes all the way to three points.
New England now goes into the World Cup break still in possession of first place in the East, but in a more precarious position. For Heaps, the break will be a chance to help his team find the balance they need to be a consistent force.
"When you go into a break, I think you have to collect and look at what you did well and what you didn't do so well," he said. "I think we've been streaky. Let's be honest, we've won games and we've lost and we've got to find a way to balance that out a little bit better."
New England has Open Cup action next on the docket, facing the Richmond Kickers in Richmond on June 18th.