WASHINGTON, D.C. – Having endured an endlessly frustrating two-month stretch from mid-May to mid-July, the New England Revolution required a dose of good fortune to snap out of its extended funk and put an end to a nasty nine-game winless run.
The Revs received the necessary touch of luck on Wednesday night at RFK Stadium when Charlie Davies missed high on a 44th-minute penalty kick, opening the door for the visitors to steal all three points on the strength of Stephen McCarthy’s 73rd-minute header.
“We obviously got a break with [United] missing the penalty,” admitted head coach Steve Nicol. “But we haven’t had a break since I think we played them last (on March 26). Everything we’ve gotten with our team, we’ve had to claw to get.”
“[The win] was big for us,” said goalkeeper Matt Reis, who made six saves to claim his fourth shutout of the season. “We haven’t had a lot to be happy about this year and after our performance against Philadelphia on the weekend, we were really down in the dumps. It just shows a lot of heart and resolve in these guys. I still think this team is good enough to win and we definitely showed it tonight.”
Without the services of midfielder Benny Feilhaber (red card suspension) but regaining the experience of captain Shalrie Joseph and veteran defender Ryan Cochrane – both returning from suspension – Nicol deployed a 4-3-3 formation for the first time since a 0-0 draw with the Colorado Rapids on May 7.
The formation remained the same but the personnel changed in the 22nd minute when Cochrane limped off with a left foot injury, replaced by Darrius Barnes in central defense. Barnes stepped in seamlessly and helped shut down the United attack with a steady and calming presence along the backline.
“Barnes did well,” said Nicol. “I thought he did great. He defended well, won his challenges, was in good positions generally. I thought he did a great job.”
“It’s always tough when you’re coming in cold a little bit and then coming into a game like that where it’s extremely hot and you can tell guys are getting tired early,” said Barnes, referencing the game time temperature of 91 degrees. “I just tried to go in and keep it simple and do my piece to keep the backline solid and sound. We were fortunate enough to come out with the ‘W’.”
While fortune played its role on Wednesday night, so did some key Revolution players, most notably Reis. While the veteran shot-stopper wasn’t forced to save Davies’ penalty kick in the 44th minute, Reis made critical stops on Davies and De Rosario on either side of halftime.
“Reis made a couple of great saves early on which makes a huge difference, and then we just gritted our teeth and battled it out,” said Nicol. “He made a couple of saves at a real important time which gave us the strength to go on and win the game.”
“Whenever you’re playing away from home, that’s usually the key,” Reis said of the clean sheet. “You have to try to keep it at zero for as long as you can and that’s what we did tonight as a team. As the game goes on more and more that it’s zero-zero, it’s only going to frustrate the home team and help out the visitors and that’s kind of what happened today.”
With the winless streak in the past, the Revs can now turn their focus to the second half of their current road trip as they look to carry some momentum into Saturday night’s meeting with the defending MLS Cup champion Colorado Rapids at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park.
“We have such a young team that any [points] will definitely up our confidence,” said Joseph. “We’ve been struggling the last couple of games not being able to pick up results. Tonight it went our way. We got three points and hopefully it carries over to the weekend.”