FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Head coach Steve Nicol was blunt in his assessment of the New England Revolution’s 2-0 loss to Real Salt Lake on Saturday night, his side’s first setback of the season after starting the 2011 campaign unbeaten through their first four games.
“Well, I guess there’s no hiding behind anything: we weren’t good,” said Nicol. “The first half, we probably found their men more times than we found our own, and if you’re doing that – I don’t care who you’re playing against – you’re going to be in trouble.”
On this occasion, the Revolution’s opponent was a Real Salt Lake side featuring a healthy dose of reserves, as head coach Jason Kreis opted to rest many of his starters following their historic result over Saprissa in Tuesday’s CONCACAF Champions League semifinal in Costa Rica.
Despite its untested lineup, RSL enacted its game plan perfectly, striking opportunistically on a set piece in the 27th minute – Chris Schuler’s first career goal from Collen Warner’s corner kick – before Paulo Jr. stuck a dagger in the Revs with a killer goal just two minutes after the halftime break.
“You have to give them credit,” said Nicol. “They had great shape, they kept solid and just tried to hurt us on the break. We gave them a rotten goal from a set piece and then we’re up against it.
“It’s the manner in which we gave [up the second goal] that’s the worst thing about it,” he added. “We lose a ball at the halfway line, which is unforgivable.”
While the goals were finished after Paulo Jr.’s 47th-minute strike, the action continued until the final whistle with three red cards issued for the second straight game involving the Revolution.
Shalrie Joseph was the first to get his marching orders for an altercation with Kyle Beckerman in the 70th minute, while teammate Pat Phelan joined him in the locker room following an 85th-minute tackle on Robbie Russell. RSL’s Will Johnson was issued a second yellow card – and subsequent red – for his part in the ensuing scrum.
“It definitely got chippy in the second half,” said defender Darrius Barnes, who replaced the injured Ryan Cochrane (hip pain) in the 53rd minute. “The game got heated. The tackles started flying and I feel like we just have to do a better job of keeping our cool.”
The ejections mean both Joseph and Phelan will be suspended for next weekend’s trip to Texas, where the Revs will face the Houston Dynamo on Sunday, April 17. The duo started each of the Revolution’s first five games of the season, so Nicol will have to deploy a new central midfield combination at Robertson Stadium.
“We’ve been talking all preseason about how we think we’re pretty deep, so I guess that’ll put us to the test,” said forward Zack Schilawski. “Some guys are going to have to step up, but we feel confident that we can pull it off.”