HOUSTON, Texas – An hour into Sunday night’s meeting with the Houston Dynamo at Robertson Stadium, it would’ve been easy for the New England Revolution to fold up shop.
The Revs had scratched and clawed their way to a 1-0 halftime lead courtesy of Shalrie Joseph’s third goal of the season in the 43rd minute, but Dynamo forward Dominic Oduro scored the equalizer in the 59th minute to pull the hosts level as second-year goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth was bombarded in the Revolution net.
Having seen a two-goal lead slip away in Dallas in their last road game a little more than two weeks ago, those same doubts likely began creeping into the players’ minds as the Revolution searched for a way to snap its 11-game road winless run.
New England found what it was looking for in the form of Kheli Dube, who scored his second goal of the season in the 73rd minute to give the resilient Revs a coveted three points.
“It says a lot about the atmosphere in the group, about the guys, about our character, and that’s very important for us,” said forward Ilija Stolica about the Revolution’s ability to forge ahead after conceding the equalizer. “It doesn’t matter that [we’re already out of the playoffs]. It’s always good to finish the season in a good mood, winning games.”
The method in which the game-winning goal was scored typified the Revolution’s resolve, as it was hard work from Stolica which created the opportunity from nothing. The Serbian forward harassed and harried Dynamo defender Ryan Cochrane as he tried to dribble out of the back, eventually forcing an error and stealing the ball near the end line to instantly turn defense into attack.
“I think both of us had hard duels during the whole game, and I think it was maybe a mistake from him,” Stolica said of Cochrane, who engaged in physical battles with the Revolution’s forward pairing of Stolica and Marko Perovic throughout the night. “He was trying to dribble when it’s not good for one defender to try to dribble.”
Nicking the ball off Cochrane was only part of the setup, however, as Stolica then calmly waited for his chance to find a teammate in the box. He did so when a pair of defenders converged, as Stolica expertly threaded a pass through the box to Dube at the back post.
“I saw [Dube] immediately and I was just waiting for good timing, the good moment,” said Stolica. “The other defender who was covering that space, he came to close the space closer to me, and then when he was stepping out, I just took that moment to give [Dube] the ball through two defenders.”
Dube did the rest, using his pace to latch onto the pass and dispatch his effort back across the face of goal and inside the far post. It was Dube’s third goal in three career appearances at Robertson Stadium and his second straight game-winning goal in Houston, as the Zimbabwean scored the only goal in the Revolution’s 1-0 win last year.
“Iljia’s got a great head for soccer,” said Dube. “As soon as I saw he got the ball, he looked up and then I made the run on the far side and there was no one over there.”
While the Revs were paced by Dube, Stolica and Joseph in the attacking half of the field, they were backstopped by a solid defensive performance and a fine showing from the young Shuttleworth.
The Revs’ goalkeeper finished with six saves, including a highlight-reel stop on Oduro in first-half stoppage time. Oduro latched onto a bouncing ball inside the box and unleashed a fierce volley from close range, but Shuttleworth reacted with lightning-quick reflexes to powerfully push the ball to safety.
“I didn’t know much about it,” said Shuttleworth with a chuckle. “I just wanted to make myself big. I thought he was leaning to the right, so I dove to the right and he just knocked it into me.”
Whether driven by luck or skill – or perhaps a combination of both – the Revs will be delighted with their performance on Sunday night as they look to carry a bit of momentum into the final two games of the season.
“I think tonight we put on a real good professional show,” said head coach Steve Nicol. “I didn’t think we gave too much away. We scored two good goals away from home, and overall it was a good performance.”