FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – On a night when the New England Revolution debuted new jersey sponsor UnitedHealthcare and handed U.S. National Team midfielder Benny Feilhaber his first MLS start, it was only fitting that the home side claimed all three points.
That’s exactly what happened on Saturday night at Gillette Stadium, where Rajko Lekic’s 83rd-minute strike earned the Revs a dramatic 3-2 win over Sporting Kansas City.
It was a breakout offensive performance for the Revs, who scored three goals in a game for the first time this season after being shut out in their last two matches, a pair of losses to Real Salt Lake and the Houston Dynamo.
“One of the positive things that we can take from tonight is that we made chances,” said head coach Steve Nicol. “We spoke about it all week – we haven’t made chances and we haven’t scored goals. So we should be pleased that we got three (goals) and I think that if we can be better with the ball, that we’ll make more chances.”
“It was beautiful,” said Lekic of the offensive performance. “We had many chances today. We had maybe two, three, four big chances and we scored three goals. It was a big match for us.”
Lekic was the eventual hero, but from the opening whistle all eyes were on Feilhaber, who started in central midfield just two days after arriving from Denmark. Nicol had stated his intention to hand Feilhaber his debut ahead of the match, but it was unknown whether the 26-year-old former Aarhus playmaker would start or settle for a substitute’s role.
That question was answered one hour before kickoff when Feilhaber’s name was present on the starting lineup sheet, and he repaid Nicol’s faith with a solid 90-minute performance, including an assist on Marko Perovic’s opening goal.
“You see the quality that he has,” Nicol said of Feilhaber. “He made a big impact tonight. His fitness wasn’t really a concern, it was just his sharpness. He hadn’t really trained all week.”
“I felt surprisingly okay,” said Feilhaber. “I definitely got tired in the second half at a certain point, but the fact that we (were) a man up in the last 15 minutes helped … I hung in there for 90 minutes, and the most important thing is that we got three points.”
Kei Kamara struck twice for Sporting KC to hand the visitors a 2-1 lead midway through the second half – the second goal arriving via a disputed penalty kick – but the Revs showed remarkable resiliency to pull themselves back into the game.
Shalrie Joseph equalized for the Revs just three minutes after Kamara put SKC ahead, setting the stage for Lekic’s late heroics.
“The timing of the (second) goal was huge for us,” said Nicol.
Just moments after Joseph’s equalizer, Sporting Kansas City was reduced to 10 men as defender Aurelien Collin was issued a straight red card following a fracas in the box. The Revs made the most of their man advantage in the dying stages, as Lekic showed a goal scorer’s instinct by slipping in front of his defender and sending a glancing header under the crossbar.
“His header was fantastic – it’s just a pure striker’s finish,” said Nicol. “And let’s hope there are many more of them.”