Stolica’s heroics help Revs remain unbeaten

Second-half substitute’s late goal rescues Revs in match which featured three red cards

VANCOUVER, Canada – Wednesday night’s 1-1 draw between the New England Revolution and Vancouver Whitecaps FC had a little bit of everything.

Second-half substitute Ilija Stolica struck deep into stoppage time to rescue a point for the Revs, who are now unbeaten through the schedule’s first four games for just the second time in club history. Stolica’s goal cancelled out Eric Hassli’s 55th-minute penalty kick, but the flow of the game was dictated by a trio of red cards which gave the Revs varying degrees of man advantages throughout the second half.

The bizarre circumstances left Revolution head coach Steve Nicol unsure how to feel about the result.

“I must admit, it’s really weird,” said a perplexed Nicol after the game. “We feel as though we wanted to win the game. We didn’t make enough chances to win the game, to be honest, but with the amount of the ball we had, we should’ve done better with it.

“But we’re away from home and if we picked up a point every time we went away from home during the season, we would be happy,” he continued. “So it’s kind of weird. We’re still undefeated, which is good, but we just feel as though we’ve kind of left some points.”

Nicol’s mixed emotions stem from the fact that his side played the entirety of Wednesday night’s second half with at least a one-man advantage, but only just managed to claim a point with Stolica’s dramatic finish almost three minutes into stoppage time.

Vancouver’s Gershon Koffie was issued a straight red card for an errant elbow to Pat Phelan’s face just moments before the halftime break, reducing the hosts to 10 men.

The Revolution’s numerical advantage was doubled in the 56th minute under truly odd circumstances. Halftime substitute Eric Hassli – who received a yellow card for elbowing Kevin Alston in the 49th minute – converted a penalty kick after Zak Boggs was adjudged to have taken down Camilo in the box. Hassli removed his jersey during the celebration, however, and was issued a second caution and subsequent red card.

Despite their 11-v-9 advantage, the Revs struggled to generate scoring chances as the Whitecaps defended staunchly and continued to hit on the counter.

“It’s never as straightforward as it sounds,” said Chris Tierney of playing against a shorthanded side. “You think two men up it’s going to be a breeze, but what happens is they all tuck in a little bit, their shape becomes a little more compact and it can be tough to break them down.”

Oddly enough, it was a red card of their own which seemed to spark the Revs to life. Rookie center back A.J. Soares was dismissed in the 75th minute for a sliding challenge on Atiba Harris, sending a wakeup call to the Revs that their chances were slipping away.

“It took us getting a red card until we started pinning them in, started knocking the ball (around) and moving it, and that’s just not good enough,” said Pat Phelan. “It kind of set in (like), ‘Alright, this really can’t go on much longer. We really can’t explain this too ourselves if we don’t get something out of this’.”

Eventually the Revs did meet the challenge, as Stolica bagged his first goal of the season following a well-worked buildup from Phelan and Zack Schilawski. Phelan started the move with a long diagonal ball into the box for Schilawski, who headed a short pass into the path of Stolica. The Serb used his first touch to control the ball with his thigh and his second to blast the ball into the upper corner.

The goal not only spared the Revolution’s blushes, but it also ultimately allowed the club to head back east still undefeated and with a point in tow as it prepares for Saturday night’s showdown with fellow unbeaten side Real Salt Lake.

“I think if you offered us a draw coming here, we would’ve said, ‘OK, maybe’,” said Tierney. “Any time you go on the road you look to pick up points and we did that. So all things considered, it’s not the worst result, but we’ll be looking to get three (points) this weekend, that’s for sure.”