TUCSON, Ariz. – Jay Heaps had a simple message for his New England Revolution players as they entered halftime of Saturday night’s Desert Diamond Cup match trailing the New York Red Bulls.
The Revs answered their coach’s call with an inspired second-half performance, scoring three unanswered goals to turn a 1-0 deficit into a convincing 3-1 win. Lee Nguyen and Jerry Bengtson scored six minutes apart to give New England its first lead of the preseason, while training camp invitee Marko Jesic added a late insurance goal.
“What we really were preaching was a response,” Heaps said. “I think our first half was actually pretty good. We actually dominated a lot of the play, but we had a letdown defensively where we make a mistake, then we compound that mistake by not being in a good spot defensively and they score really on their first opportunity. That’s been something we’re working on – it happened a little bit last year – but the response was really good.
“We brought the guys in at halftime, had a word about how when you do make a mistake and you’re still in control of the game, things shouldn’t change. Just bring a little bit more energy, a little bit more response, and the guys showed it.”
Unsigned draft pick Donnie Smith had a hand in the Revolution’s first two goals, launching the shot which was handled by Jamison Olave to set up Nguyen’s penalty kick before assisting on Bengtson’s game-winner. According to the rookie midfielder, high pressure tactics were a key factor in the second-half turnaround.
“We pressed them,” Smith said. “We switched up the formation a little bit to add more pressure on their backs and I think that definitely helped out. We kept them in their back third and it created the chances for us.”
Those tactics were evident in the buildup to the first goal as Nguyen and Scott Caldwell collapsed on Red Bulls midfielder Eric Alexander, forcing a turnover near midfield which led directly to Smith’s shot and resulting penalty. Also promising was the free kick which led to New England’s game winner as the Revs struggled with set pieces on both sides of the ball throughout 2012.
Saturday night’s victory was a positive step for the Revolution, both in the performance and the result. Those are the types of steps New England will want to continue to take in the next few weeks as the March 9 season opener against the Chicago Fire inches closer.
“The most important thing is that we keep improving and we get better towards first kickoff,” said Nguyen. “That’s what we’re doing so far and that’s what we’re going to keep doing.”