FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – The New England Revolution grabbed a crucial three points with a 2-0 victory over the Chicago Fire in front of 14,630 at Gillette Stadium on Saturday night. After a first half largely devoid of quality opportunities, the Revolution took the lead through Juan Agudelo – making his return from injury – in the 54th minute and then secured the win with Kelyn Rowe’s strike in second half stoppage time.
The win saw the Revolution (9-9-6, 33 points) leapfrog the Chicago Fire (9-10-4, 31 points) — who had entered the match on a four game unbeaten run — into sixth place in the Eastern Conference, staying within striking distance of the fifth and final playoff spot. Goalkeeper Matt Reis, making his first appearance since March, picked up his third shutout in as many games this season.
“I thought it was a pretty hard fought match, but we came out with the right mentality,” said head coach Jay Heaps. “We certainly changed the line-up from our last couple games and I thought the guys that got in tonight did an excellent job.”
Heaps made five changes to the team that fell 3-0 at Sporting Kansas City last weekend. Veteran keeper Reis started in net over Bobby Shuttleworth, Agudelo returned from injury to make his first appearance since June 15th, starting in place of the suspended Dimitry Imbongo, while Chad Barrett and Diego Fagundez started over Saer Sene and Kevin Alston in midfield, and A.J. Soares replaced Stephen McCarthy at center back.
“It felt good [finding out I was starting],” said Reis. “I think I heard Thursday or so. They just asked if I was ready to play and I said yes.”
After an opening 15 minutes devoid of any good chances, the Fire had the first legitimate opportunity to open the scoring in the 18th minute when Juan Luis Anangono got the ball on a counterattack just outside the Revolution box to the left. Anangono juked his way past two defenders, before firing in a shot that was blocked by Scott Caldwell. The ball fell to Mike Magee at the far post, who blasted a shot from close range, but it was denied by the post. The ball fell back to Magee, but Reis made the save, holding onto the ball.
The Fire had another dangerous chance in the 27th minute, when Dilly Duka beat Chris Tierney to the endline and sent a low cross to Magee at the near post, Magee put a powerful shot on frame from a tight angle, but was again denied by Reis. The Fire wouldn’t have another shot till the 87th minute.
“I think it was the effort from everybody,” Heaps said of the team’s defensive success. “If you noticed we were closing down on every opportunity and that’s the effort we need as a constant. I think when we do that… and we can limit them – there’s just a little bit more urgency – we do a lot better.”
The Revolution finally put their first shot on frame in the 38th minute with an effort by Kelyn Rowe from just outside the box, but Sean Johnson easily made the save. Rowe would come close again in first half stoppage time with another long range shot, this one just outside the box on the right side with his effort rolling wide of the far post.
New England finally scored the opener in the 54th minute through Agudelo. A long ball from Tierney played Agudelo behind the defense and the 20-year-old striker chipped a shot with the outside of his right footover Johnson. Bakary Soumare ran back and acrobatically cleared the ball out from the goalmouth, but referee Edvin Jurisevic ruled the ball had already crossed the line, giving New England a 1-0 lead. The goal was Agudelo’s fourth with the Revolution, and sixth overall this season.
“Chris Tierney played an awesome ball,” said Agudelo. “We talked about it before the game and I think it was at halftime, playing it behind [Fire defender Austin Berry’s] back and I was able to get there and finish it off for my team.”
Fagundez next threatened for the Revolution in the 77th minute when he picked up the ball near midfield, outpaced substitute Dan Paladini to the endline and ran in on goal before hitting a powerful shot from close range and a tight angle. Johnson was there to tip the ball wide for a corner kick.
A minute later Charlie Davies – who joined the team on loan this week from Denmark’s Randers FC – would make his debut, entering the game for Barrett. Davies had a chance to make an immediate impact, when a long ball played him into space found him, but his first touch was too heavy, allowing Johnson to come off his line and collect the ball.
“I’m glad that we got the three points. That’s the most important thing,” said Davies. “Am I happy with my play? Absolutely not, but it’s good to get the junk out of my system now before we start getting into tougher situations. But just getting out there felt great. This is a team where I think I’ll really be put in a position to succeed – the midfielders create a lot of space for the forwards and provide great chances and great service, so I’m psyched for the games ahead.”
New England had a fantastic chance to double their lead in the 89th minute when center back Jose Goncalves broke free up the middle. Goncalves ran to the top of the box, and then sent it wide left to substitute Ryan Guy. Guy slipped a pass past Johnson to Rowe, who has an open net to shoot at, but somehow hit it wide from close range.
Rowe would make no mistake a minute later when substitute Saer Sene broke forward into the box and hit a shot on frame. Johnson made the save, but the rebound fell to Rowe, who hit it into the empty net.
“The first one was one of those where it was probably harder to miss than it was to make it,” said Rowe. “It was a great run by Ryan, he played a great ball in and it was all me. I should’ve put it away, and I’m not going to miss twice.”
The Revolution would hold on for the victory, but the post-game was marred by a skirmish that saw both Sene and the Fire’s Soumare ejected for a fracas after the final whistle.
The Revolution return to action on Sunday at 7:30pm, with a home match against the Philadelphia, who currently sit in fourth place, five points ahead of New England.