FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Mired in a three-game losing streak and struggling to score goals – not to mention still smarting from last weekend’s 5-0 loss to Real Salt Lake – the New England Revolution knew it had a rare chance to make a statement on Saturday night when the league-leading LA Galaxy visited Gillette Stadium.
It’s safe to say the Revs made that statement loud and clear, delivering a 2-0 win over the seemingly untouchable Galaxy to leap from the foot of the table into fifth place in the Eastern Conference. Not only was it just Los Angeles’ second loss of the season, but the recently goal-shy Revolution became the first team to score two goals against the resolute Galaxy backline this season. In fact, LA’s defense had conceded just five goals in 15 games prior and had recorded a league-best 10 shutouts.
The victory was critical as the Revs reached the midway point of the schedule trying to fight their way back into the playoff race, but the importance of the three points may be surpassed by the effect the victory could have on the club moving forward.
“It’s huge,” said head coach Steve Nicol when asked what the win meant with regards to momentum. “We’ve had a bad run, no question about it, but they came out and fought as hard as they could. I think in the end we deserved to win the game.”
New England was on the front foot from the opening whistle and looked to attack a Galaxy side missing two of its most influential players in U.S. National Team star Landon Donovan and standout defender Omar Gonzalez. Donovan remained on the West Coast to rest following his participation in the World Cup, while Gonzalez was suspended for yellow-card accumulation.
Although the Revs controlled the tempo in the opening 45 minutes and limited MLS leading scorer Edson Buddle (10 goals) to long-range shots, they failed to generate many quality scoring chances of their own and went into the half locked in a scoreless draw.
That quickly changed in the second half, as the Revolution’s grit and determination was finally coupled with the killer instinct.
“I think we picked up more second balls in the second half than the first,” said Nicol. “Shalrie (Joseph) was one of the first to the balls and was challenging them. We just didn’t read the second ball well enough in the first half. I think we did that better in the second half, and that made a difference.”
The Revolution reaped the rewards of its endeavor in the 67th minute, when Marko Perovic scored what proved to be the game-winning goal by blasting a 20-yard free kick low inside the left post. There was a bit of good fortune about the goal, as Perovic’s original free kick from 30 yards struck the wall only for referee Paul Ward to spot a handball by Galaxy defender Leonardo and award another free kick 10 yards closer. Perovic made no mistake with his second attempt, curling the ball around the wall for his third goal of the season and his second direct from a free kick.
Scoring the first goal was critical for the Revs, who have become accustomed to falling behind early and chasing games from the opening stages. With a second-half lead, New England was able to tighten up defensively and expose the Galaxy as the visitors pushed numbers forward in search of an equalizer.
“It’s always good to score first rather than concede a goal and try to come from behind,” said Sainey Nyassi, who put in a Man of the Match type showing with a consistently dangerous performance down the right wing. “It helps so we can hold the ball and play as a team and do whatever we want with the ball. We don’t have to force anything.”
With the freedom to play as they pleased, the Revs opened up the Galaxy defense once again in the 74th minute, and it was Nyassi who was rewarded for his efforts with his second goal of the season. A long-distance shot from Joseph deflected off Nyassi as he crossed the top of the box, and LA goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts could only recover enough to push the ball off the left post. With the goal gaping, Nyassi blasted the ball into the net from one yard out.
“I was in the right place at the right time,” said Nyassi of the insurance tally.
Of course, scoring twice against the league’s top defense was a massive relief for the Revs, but the effort on the defensive side of the ball against MLS’ second-ranked attack was just as important. GoalkeeperMatt Reis made five saves to earn his first shutout since returning from offseason shoulder and knee surgeries, while central defender Darrius Barnes returned from injury to put in a solid shift in his first appearance since May 8.
Barnes claimed it was the backline’s ability to say goal-side on the Galaxy’s forwards which contributed to the clean sheet.
“I feel like the whole back four did a good job of keeping their attack in front of us,” he said. “That was our goal coming into the game and we weren’t looking to fall behind. We wanted to keep the ball in the midfield and not let them get too many chances.”
As emotional as the victory was for the Revs, they’re well aware that Saturday night’s result was just the first step in turning their season around and making a serious playoff push.
“The three points definitely helped out a lot and it’s a confidence builder,” said Barnes. “But we can’t be happy with just four wins and we need to keep doing what we did tonight. We have SuperLiga next week, which will help us get some momentum moving forward into the rest of league play. We can’t be satisfied with this and we can definitely play better. We’re going to keep going up from here.”