HOUSTON, Texas – Forced to chop and change his lineup because of injuries and suspensions to key personnel, New England Revolution head coach Steve Nicol knew it would take a gutsy performance to earn a result on Sunday night in Houston.
Without the services of Ousmane Dabo (R quad strain), Didier Domi (L hamstring strain), Shalrie Joseph (suspension) and Pat Phelan (suspension), Nicol’s side put forth the necessary effort and looked poised to escape Robertson Stadium with a scoreless draw. That was until Hunter Freeman’s fortuitous goal in the 86th minute broke the Revolution’s resolve and handed the Houston Dynamo a 1-0 win.
It was the Revs’ second consecutive shutout loss after starting the season unbeaten through four games, while it was also their first-ever loss in Houston after five previous successful visits.
“Their game plan is to get the ball out wide, get it into the box and crash the box,” said Darrius Barnes, who played left back as part of a makeshift 4-3-3 formation. “For about 85 minutes, I thought we did well defending that.
“We had a lot of new guys playing in some new spots, and I thought for the majority of the game [the Dynamo] didn’t really have too much,” Barnes continued. “They had a couple chances here and there, but I thought we did well to bend but not break.”
A natural center back, Barnes was one of several Revolution players forced to adapt to new roles on Sunday night. The versatile Chris Tierney partnered Stephen McCarthy and Zak Boggs in midfield, while Danish forward Rajko Lekic made his MLS debut up top alongside Marko Perovic and Zack Schilawski.
While the Revs managed just one shot on goal, they defended resolutely and survived a series of near misses from Will Bruin and Bobby Boswell to emerge unscathed. Their luck changed in the 86th minute, however, when Freeman nudged the ball over the line to conclude a bizarre sequence.
Brad Davis’ corner kick was met well by Cam Weaver, whose header ricocheted off the crossbar and straight into the air. As the ball fell back into play just inches from the goal line, Freeman and Revolution goalkeeper Matt Reis jostled for position. Freeman ultimately got himself into a spot where he could bundle the ball over the line, although questions linger about whether the final touch came from his hand.
“(The) header goes off the crossbar, it just goes straight up into the air and I get stuck directly underneath it,” said Reis, who made seven saves in his return from a right adductor strain. “As a goalie, that’s the worst possible place you want to be because you know everybody’s just going to come in on top of you.
“In hindsight, the only thing I think I could’ve done better is just found him early as the ball’s up in the air, boxed him out and then tried to go after the ball,” Reis concluded.
Reis lamented the bizarre nature of the goal and felt his side was deserving of a point based on the spirit they showed.
“You probably won’t see that again for another couple of years, where the ball goes straight up into the air and then straight down into the goal,” he said. “It’s unfortunate for how hard we worked and how hard we played.”