By Kevin Koczwara
July 20, that’s the last time the New England Revolution won. The Revolution beat D.C. United, 1-0, thanks a goal from Stephen McCarthy in the 73rd minute. The season was looking bleak then, the Revs were 4-9-7 (19 pts.) through 20 games. That win ended a nine game winless streak — three draws and six losses. Since the win in the D.C., things haven’t gotten any easier for New England.
The Revs went on another slump, this time more agonizing than the last. The games were there to be won. New England had control. It had early leads, significant leads, leads at home, and leads on the road. And yet, the Revolution found ways to lose a grip and give up the valuable three points it needed to get close to fighting for a playoff spot. Letting a lead slip away became almost cliché, so much so that no lead seemed safe.
On Saturday night, New England (5-11-12, 27 pts.) started strong, again, against FC Dallas (13-8-7, 46 pts.). The Revolution scored in the 14th minute after a beautiful piece of play, maybe some of the smoothest and seamless build-up the team has put together all season.
Shalrie Joseph started it from the midfield with a through ball to Milton Caraglio, who tracked the ball down in the corner and back-heeled a pass to Monsef Zerka — the Revolution’s latest addition to the squad from France — waiting in space at the corner of the 18-yard-box. Zerka did something almost unprecedented in Major League Soccer, he sent in the early ball on his first touch and found a streaking Joseph running towards the front post. Joseph finished the chance with a header, beating Dallas goalkeeper Kevin Hartman. The Revolution were on the board, and luckily, when FC Dallas falls behind this year it’s 2-6-2 — the Hoops are a front-running team.
The Revolution were able to hold on. In fact, the team was able to hold on to the shutout — only the team’s fifth clean sheet of the season — and would add-on another goal in the second half. It was a complete effort, something the team has struggled to do.
“It feels amazing. I think it feels extra special when it takes extra effort. You can never fault the guys on our team for giving anything less than 100 percent and you saw it out there today. I’m proud of everybody,” said Benny Feilhaber after the game.
It was only a matter of time before the Revolution found the winning formula again. On Wednesday, the Revolution’s much maligned attack and scoring perked up and Steve Nicol’s side scored four goals in the first half against a good Philadelphia Union team. The problem was being able to hold on for the full 90 minutes — the Union stormed back in the second half and tied the game, scoring two goals in the last 10 minutes.
The Revs were perking up in the early moments of games and scoring goals, but it has been unable to hold on to leads, for one reason or another. Up until Saturday’s game, New England had allowed 29 second half goals (14 in the last 15 minutes) and in comparison, it’s only scored 12 goals after half-time (five in the last 15 minutes). But it all came together against Dallas, and the team was able to keep push its chin up higher with three points instead of reminiscing about solid patches of play.
“It’s been frustrating for sure, but even though we lost or tied the last couple of games we’ve still been playing better than we have in the past. That’s what we’ve told ourselves,” said Matt Reis after the game. “The one thing about this team is that when things haven’t gone our way we’ve kept our chins up; we’ve really tried to improve. We really put it together tonight.”
And by continuing to keep working, keep fighting, the Revs find themselves close in the Eastern Conference playoff picture because no one besides Columbus wants to win games. The team isn’t out mathematically yet. It’s still got a shot at fighting for the MLS Cup, where anything can happen. But the team needs to keep plugging away solid 90 minute performances. It needs to keep focusing on one game at a time because too often has the game slipped from its fingers.
“I stand by what I’ve been saying is that our minds should be on each and every game and not playoffs or making a run right now,” said Feilhaber. “It’s a 90 minute game and that’s what we should be looking at. And that’s what we were able to do today. Everybody did everything that we could and it’s really gratifying.
Really gratifying for this team would be to turn on the critics and continue to fight for that playoff spot, even though its far out in the distance. The Revolution have a tough schedule the rest of the way with games at Portland, which is a tough place to play, a game at the re-surging Chicago Fire, and home games against Seattle and Columbus, two of the league’s best sides.
“A good outcome is if we can produce another 90 minute performance next week. I’m personally not thinking we need to make a run for the playoffs because we haven’t been good enough to be thinking that way, obviously mathematically is it still possible? Yeah, Of course. I still think that we should be thinking one game at a time, putting in a 90 minute performance and we did that today and now we can look to try and build,” said Feilhaber.
This win could be a momentum builder for a team looking for a sign, looking to finally be able to hold on and win a game, convincingly. But of course, it could be another false sign much like the ones before. We will have to wait and see. The rest of the season will put this team’s character and skill on display because there is no looking back.
Kevin Koczwara can be reached at Kevin.Koczwara@thesoccerguysonline.com.