BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. – Playing on the road with a full squad for 90 minutes is difficult enough, but the scope of the task magnifies twofold when playing with 10 men for more than an hour.
That’s the situation the New England Revolution found themselves in on Saturday evening at Toyota Park, where Je-Vaughn Watson’s 27th-minute ejection put the visitors in a hole they couldn’t dig themselves out of in a 3-0 loss to the Chicago Fire.
Watson, who was making his first start since last year’s U.S. Open Cup Final in a move head coach Jay Heaps said was designed to strengthen the midfield by pushing Kelyn Rowe higher, was sent off for a pair of bookable offenses inside the opening half-hour.
“We’ve got to be more disciplined knowing that it’s a road game,” said Heaps. “You can’t be too reckless and we put ourselves in a bad spot.”
New England adjusted their 4-4-2 diamond setup to a 4-3-2 formation with Watson off, dropping Rowe to left back and shifting Lee Nguyen to the left side of midfield. The change helped solidify the shorthanded Revs, but a mental lapse just before halftime allowed Bastian Schweinsteiger to hand the Fire a lead.
It was a backbreaker for the visitors, and the game was all but out of reach when Nemanja Nikolic scored the first of his two goals just 90 seconds into the second half to double Chicago’s advantage.
“I thought we made the right adjustment moving to a good formation,” Heaps said. “We were tough to break down until the last minute of the half. Then those are the moments in a game where you give up a goal at the beginning of a half and right at halftime; that’s not football, in a way. That’s a mentality.
“The red card and the two goals right before half and after half really frustrates all of us.”
The Revs won’t have much time to dwell in that frustration, however, as they return home for a pair of games in a four-day stretch, beginning on Wednesday night against the San Jose Earthquakes.
New England will need to be smart in how they recover after a grueling 90 minutes on Saturday – although Nguyen, Juan Agudelo and Kei Kamara were all removed early – but they’ll benefit from the comforts of home, where they’ve won six straight games dating back to last year.
“This has to be one of those where the team moves on quickly, because you just don’t have enough time to sit and dwell,” said Heaps. “It’s a quick turnaround, we’re playing a good San Jose team, and we’ve already started talking about what we need to do to get our bodies right, get our minds right, and be prepared to play on Wednesday.”