FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Following a trio of early-season losses, New England Revolution head coach Brad Friedel challenged his players to find a response on Saturday afternoon at Gillette Stadium against visiting Minnesota United FC.
They found it, spurred in large part by a whopping six changes to the starting lineup.
Jalil Anibaba opened the scoring early with his first goal in almost four years, Brandon Bye’s second career goal was the game winner in the 62nd minute, and goalkeeper Cody Cropper made two saves to pick up a 2-1 win in his first appearance since September 2017.
“Really happy with the performance the players put in,” said Friedel. “Really happy with the work ethic, and really happy with the application to what we were trying to do.”
The pressure to put in an improved performance against Minnesota didn’t just come from Friedel, but from within the locker room, according to Bye, who said the Revs felt the weight of picking up one point from a possible 12 to start the season.
“I felt like it was from within us,” said Bye, who was deployed in a more advanced right-wing role on Saturday with Andrew Farrell making his 2019 debut at right back. “We challenged each other, essentially, coming together as a team and between teammates, and trying to work hard and trying to push each other through the game.
“Through 90 minutes, it’s a long game, but I feel like we found a collective push together and we were able to get through the 90 and get the win.”
Anibaba’s opener in the 10th minute provided just the start the Revolution needed, the veteran center back diving to nod home Carles Gil’s in-swinging cross from the right wing. It was Gil’s first assist after scoring the Revolution’s first three goals of the season, and one of a game-high six chances he created.
Darwin Quintero’s equalizer from the penalty spot in the 26th minute was a temporary setback, but it simply set the stage for Bye’s heroics midway through the second half. The second-year winger slid in at the back post to finish off Teal Bunbury’s low cross from a sequence started by DeJuan Jones, making his first career start on the left wing.
“(This win was) so important,” said Jones. “We had a lot of negative things come our way, a lot of adversity. Just to fight through it and get three points against a good Minnesota team was huge for us today.”
As important as Saturday’s victory was for the Revs, they’re also keenly aware that they’ll need to maintain a similar level of focus to turn this first win into a string of positive results. They’ll have a chance to do so next weekend in Columbus, before returning to Gillette Stadium for three straight in mid-April.
“I think a win gets us moving in the right direction,” said Anibaba. “Obviously we demand a lot of ourselves and it’s very early times in the season, so it’s just a small stepping stone.”