By Kevin Koczwara
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The New England Revolution’s friendly against Cruzeiro FC was suppose to be a a positive experience and a sort of homecoming for Steve Ralston, who resigned with the Revolution on Wednesday after trying to help division two side AC St. Louis try and help it get started. But the game was anything but a homecoming or a walk in the park for Ralston and the Revs.
Ralston’s return was short lived as he had to leave with an injury after playing for less than a minute on the field,
He came on in the 72nd minute for Marko Perovic and was welcomed back by a standing ovation from the Gillette crowd. Ralston’s almost immediately suffered a dislocated left elbow after falling in the Cruzeiro box. He was quickly replaced by Chris Tierney. Ralston spent eight seasons with the Revolution (2002-2009) before he decided to move on to St. Louis in the off-season as a player/coach. This was to be his first action in a Revs uniform after signing earlier last week.
Ralston wasn’t the only one to pick up and injury. Khano Smith had to be removed during the first half after spraining his right ankle. Smith was playing one of his best games so far this year. He was getting forward into the attack and making his presence known in the box.
“I think [bad luck is] the only kind of luck going for us at the moment, ain’t it?” said Revolution manager Steve Nicol. “(Steve Ralston) has dislocated his elbow and Khano Smith has done his ankle. Not exactly what we’re looking for.”
The Revolution wouldn’t get any luck on the score sheet either as Cruzeiro scored three goals while New England struggled to put any of their chances on net.
Cruziero striker, Wellington Paulista, opened the scoring in the 24th minute when he worked a long ball from Cruziero defender Jonathan in the box and around Reis to the far side of the net. Paulista displayed a great finishing touch on what would prove to be the game-winning goal. Paulista wouldn’t leave Gillette stadium without entertaining the largely Brazilian fan base at least once more.
He would add to his scoring total in the second half in the 49th and 83rd minutes, giving the 26-year-old a hat trick on the night before being subbed off in the 86th minute by Keiza.
The Revolution played better then the scoreline. They created fair share of chances, but were undone by poor finishing in and around the net.
“I think the biggest difference was the final third. I mean, the finishing. Obviously [Wellington Paulista] is a good player,” said Revolution manager Steve Nicol about the difference between the two sides.
“The way they are in the final third of the field – it’s something we can definitely learn from them. When we get there, we’re a little bit predictable. Whereas when they’re getting in there, you know have to really be on your toes and the movement is good.”
New England’s last exhibition against a foreign club was a 3-0 defeat at the hands of Portuguese giants Benfica, but that game was not as close as the scoreline suggested.
The Revolution dominated parts of the game and had plenty of chances. New England held on to the ball and controlled much of the game, they just weren’t able to finish their chances, and that was the difference.
“I think, overall, we are better in terms of moving the ball and keeping possession, which we stressed a lot this week in practice,” said Revolution midfielder and captain Shalrie Joseph. “But we gave up a soft goal, and that’s the same thing we did in Seattle and the same thing we’ve been doing in the last couple of games. [We’re] just giving up way too many goals. Tonight, [Cruzeiro] are a top-notch team. They move the ball a lot and play well together, and we just have to learn from it.”
The team will have plenty of time to work and learn from the loss as they won’t play another game until June 27 when the team hosts the Chicago Fire.
There was some good news for the Revolution on the injury front, though. Matt Reis made his first start of the year for the Revolution in the friendly after recovering from knee and shoulder surgery in the off-season.
Reis’s recovery and inclusion in the starting squad couldn’t have come at a better time for the Revs after Preston Burpo’s injury a few weeks ago at home against New York Red Bulls. Reis was available to play last Saturday for the Revs when the team traveled to Seattle, but he did not play in the 3-0 defeat.
“[Matt Reis] brings another dimension to our team in terms of leadership and communications by having him in the back,” said Joseph. “He’s been in the league so long, he brings that kind of stability and we need that in the back. So, having him back was really good.”
Reis played the entire first half, but was subbed off at halftime for Bobby Shuttleworth, allowing only one goal in his 45 minutes of play.
New England will have to start to capitalize on their chances and get points when they return to league play on the 27 of June against the Fire. They will have to clean up their defensive struggles if they hope to stay in the hunt for a playoff spot, and Reis will have to be on top of his game quickly.
Kevin Koczwara is a contributing writer and editor for The Soccer Guys. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.