It wasn’t an episode of Revolution. Or Chicago Fire, for that matter. But for Jay Heaps’ side, Saturday’s night’s 1-0 win at Toyota Park couldn’t have been scripted any better.
It started with number one pick Andrew Farrell showing the speed and smarts of a polished veteran. Not too far from Farrell, Jose Goncalves brought some much-needed brawn to the defense.
In the middle, Kalifa Cisse and Clyde Simms strengthened the Revolution’s form, winning second balls and linking with the wingers. Lee Nguyen, deployed on the right, habitually tested the Fire defense, while Juan Toja tore into the attacking third, often with reckless abandon.
Matt Reis made a circus save on Dilly Duka’s blast, then smothered another opportunity late. And, to cap it all off, Jerry Bengtson, the man whose shoulders carried so much of the attacking burden, scored the game-winner just after the hour.
If it was drama you wanted, Saturday night in Bridgeview didn’t fail to deliver. And wouldn’t you know it? Once the credits rolled, the Revolution emerged with an elusive road victory.
1. If you want to see pretty goals, do yourself a favor: don’t watch Jerry Bengtson. Let’s be honest: the Honduran International is not a goal artist. He isn’t going to dribble through 17 defenders and slip it into the back of the net, all casual and all. Nor is he going score from distance, at least very often. Bengtson is a poacher, and he does what poachers do best: feast on the scraps. Saturday night’s strike – if you want to call it that – was little more than putting his noggin in the way of Kelyn Rowe’s cross. Now, all this is not to take anything away from Bengtson. There is something to be said for a player who puts himself in the right spots to score. And Bengtson has proven he can do just that. Ugly goals? Sure. But an ugly goal counts for just as much as an MLS Goal of the Week candidate.
2. Kalifa Cisse shed his preseason alter-ego and came to play. It’s hard to argue that the former Bristol City ballwinner looked like a seasoned pro during the preseason. While fitness may have been the primary objective for the six-pack of preseason contests, Cisse seemed content to let his teammates hoof it over his head and play direct. Concerning? To some, it was. But Cisse certainly stepped up on Saturday, and nearly scored inside of six minutes. His confidence on the ball was evident, he won a slew of second balls, and helped provide cover in the rear. In other words, he did exactly was he was brought in to do.
3. Whatever Juan Toja was doing Saturday, he should keep doing it. Yes, it was an interesting spot that Heaps put his mercurial midfielder (thank you for that, Arlo White) into. Acting as a “false 9″ behind Bengtson, Toja did a whole lot of freelancing, bouncing from wing to wing, pushing forward, dropping back, hawking popcorn in the stands, and applying high pressure. He pestered the Fire back four, won some key challenges in the midfield, and nearly stumbled into what could’ve been the ugliest goal in MLS of the season (so far) in the 57th minute. In a sense, it was almost easier to define what he wasn’t doing on Saturday. Sure, he may not be ready to go a full 90 just yet. But darn, it was an entertaining 78 minutes from the Colombian midfielder.
4. If success is the best revenge, then Kelyn Rowe got his in short order. What happened in the 55th and 62nd minutes is just one reason why soccer is such a great sport. Moments after coming on for Donnie Smith, Rowe got obliterated by Jeff Larentowicz on a hard challenge that warranted a yellow from Hilario Grajeda. So how does Rowe respond? Crowbar to the shin, a la Tonya Harding? Rat poison? No, even better. In the 62nd minute, he brings down a terrible Larentowicz clearance, sends it to Toja, yells back at Toja for the ball, gets it, then sends it far post to Bengtson, who scores the game-winner. Somewhere, the soccer gods were smiling.
5. For once, the Revolution decided that they were going to dish out the punishment. Last year, the Revs were too easily thrown off by teams that employed judicious fouling. It was a shrewd tactic: the Revs weren’t very big in the midfield, their gameplan was easily thrown off by constant stoppages, and their form on set pieces was atrocious. So Heaps brought in strong, physical players like Cisse, Goncalves and Farrell to compliment others like Soares and Toja to establish some semblance of strength. With all five on the field, New England assumed a grittier appearance and, not unexpectedly, outfouled the Fire 21-13. And you know what? Many weren’t reckless or reactionary. The best part: they only earned one caution, and it came from, of all people, Diego Fagundez. Heaps was obviously pleased with the win, but he also had to be happy to watch his side doing some of the shoving, for once.