FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – There’s much truth to the saying, “It’s not how you start, but how you finish.” However, those who recite the phrase often forget one critical fact: how you start often dictates how you finish.
The New England Revolution (2-3-0, 6 pts.) can certainly attest to that five games into the 2010 Major League Soccer season, as the club has consistently struggled to gain a foothold in the opening stages and as a result finds itself lodged in a tie with Toronto FC for fifth place in the Eastern Conference.
It was a similar story this past weekend against the Colorado Rapids, as the Western Conference club began the match the more lively side and maintained the majority of the possession in the first 15 minutes. As is often the case, Colorado’s early control in the match led to the game’s opening goal, as Mehdi Ballouchy gave the Rapids a 14th-minute lead.
Although the Revs responded just four minutes later when Marko Perovic leveled the score at 1-1, the damage of the early goal still proved decisive. Rapids captain Pablo Mastroeni notched the game-winner in the 73rd minute, sending the Revolution to its second straight loss.
“Up until we equalized, they definitely controlled the game,” admitted head coach Steve Nicol. “There’s no question about that.”
Four times in their first five games of the season, the Revs have conceded the opening goal. Only once have they been able to come from behind and earn a result, that being in the 4-1 win over TFC on April 10 when Zack Schilawski’s second-half hat trick helped the Revolution overcome Dwayne De Rosario’s 28th-minute strike.
Unsurprisingly, losing matches when allowing the opening goal is not an issue limited to the Revolution. In fact, New England is one of only three teams in the league to have come from behind to earn a win after allowing the first goal this season, while only five times has a team even managed a draw after conceding first. All told, the team which has scored first has won 27 of 35 games.
For that reason, it’s not playing from behind, but getting off to better starts which the Revs need to improve upon.
“I think we’ve identified [slow starts] as a problem, for sure,” said Schilawski after the loss to the Rapids. “We’ve been starting the second half pretty well, but the first half – for whatever reason – we’re getting off to a little bit of a slow start.”
While the Revolution leads the league with six goals after the halftime break, the club did not score a first-half goal until Perovic struck in the 18th minute of last weekend’s loss to the Rapids. Not only that, but the Revs have twice conceded a goal in the game’s opening 15 minutes.
“Maybe in the next few games here, [we need to] keep that in mind as we’re warming up,” said Schilawski. “That’s kind of been plaguing us a little bit and as long as we have that in mind, hopefully we’ll be able to improve upon it.”
The task won’t get any easier this Saturday night against FC Dallas, a club which has established itself as a strong first-half team despite its winless (0-1-3) record. Four of the Hoops’ six goals this season have been scored in the first half, including three in the first 30 minutes. On the flip side, just two of FCD’s seven goals against have been conceded in the first half, including zero in the opening 30 minutes.
While the statistics suggest Dallas will be a tough nut to crack in the early-going on Saturday night – particularly on the road, as the Hoops took a 1-0 halftime lead into their only previous road game this season – the Revs know that getting off to a better start will be critical if they hope to reverse their fortune.