TORONTO – On paper, the New England Revolution had to have liked its chances going into Saturday afternoon’s meeting with Toronto FC.
First of all, the Revs received a massive boost late in the week when they discovered that dominant midfielder Shalrie Joseph would be returning to the club after missing five games while on a leave of absence for personal reasons. Not only were the Revs getting back one of the top players in the league, but Toronto was missing perhaps its two most influential players in Dwayne De Rosario (international duty) and Julian de Guzman (L hamstring strain).
Of course, there’s a reason games aren’t decided on paper.
The Revs outshot TFC by a margin of 11-8 – including 8-2 in the second half – but they only mustered four shots on target and forced Toronto goalkeeper Stefan Frei into only one difficult save, when he was fortunate to stop Kheli Dube’s 11th-minute volley with his face.
Meanwhile, Chad Barrett capitalized on one of a host of chances, burying a 53rd-minute header from Sam Cronin’s corner kick to keep TFC a perfect 4-0-0 at home with a 1-0 win. Barrett was also stopped cold by Preston Burpo on a breakaway in the first minute, while his 72nd-minute chip lofted harmlessly over the bar after he broke in alone once again.
The loss extended New England’s winless streak to seven games (0-5-2), and the club now hasn’t scored in its last 230 minutes of regular-season action.
“To lose 1-0 was disappointing,” said defender Cory Gibbs, who played central defense alongside Pat Phelan for the second straight game with Darrius Barnes (R ankle sprain) and Emmanuel Osei (R leg infection) still injured. “I think toward the end of the match we had a couple chances that we could have put away and we deserved at least a point out of it. (It’s) just a bit disappointing.
“I think if we just take care of the ball better that we’ll do better the next match,” he concluded.
Maintaining possession will undoubtedly improve as Joseph gets back into the fold. He didn’t have a training session with the Revolution prior to traveling to Toronto, so pregame warm-ups were his first chance to kick the ball around with his teammates in one full month. While fitness was a bit of a concern considering his lengthy absence, Joseph played the full 90 minutes and looked sharp, controlling the tempo and initiating the attack with accurate distribution.
Joseph’s presence was immediately felt on the field, as the Revs were able to push the ball through the midfield with more ease than in recent weeks.
“[Having Joseph back] stabilized us a lot more,” said Kevin Alston. “It’s easy to go through the middle. We’re a little more organized through the middle. It just helps us out a lot.”
While the possession will increase as Joseph regains his sharpness, one area of concern for the Revs remains their defending on set pieces. Defensive corner kicks and free kicks were an issue for the Revolution last season, and that trend has unfortunately continued into 2010.
Barrett’s goal on Saturday afternoon was the second goal conceded direct form a corner kick this season, while the Revs have also allowed a pair of goals from free kicks served into the box.
With another defensive lapse proving costly for New England, head coach Steve Nicol was left to rue his club’s inability to find an equalizer on the offensive end.
“We lost the game, but it was our own doing,” said Nicol. “We didn’t pass the ball well, and whenever we did (pass the ball well) we were dangerous, but we didn’t do it often enough.”
Nicol opted to begin the match with a 4-5-1 formation for the fourth consecutive game, but he shifted to a 4-4-2 setup in the 65th minute with the introduction of forwards Kenny Mansally and Zack Schilawski. While the move seemed to generate more consistent offensive chances – most notably Joseph’s 82nd-minute header, which skimmed wide of the left post – Schilawski was unable to duplicate his hat-trick heroics from April 10.
The Revs will have just two more chances to snap their winless skid before the two-week break for the group stage of the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, beginning with next weekend’s home match against the New York Red Bulls.
“I think we need to go back and work hard,” said Mansally. “Everybody knows how important it is. Nobody wants to lose so we need to step up, work hard, start winning and get our rhythm back.”