FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – The New England Revolution recovered from a disastrous start that saw them fall behind in the 11th minute on a Scott Caldwell own goal with second half goals from Diego Fagundez and Lee Nguyen to take a crucial 2-1 victory against D.C. United in front of 19,187 at Gillette Stadium on Saturday night. The win pushes the Revolution (11-11-7, 40 points) back into the fifth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference with five games remaining, while D.C. (3-20-6, 15 points) remains rooted in the cellar.
A slow start and Caldwell’s own goal put the Revolution in a precarious position in front of their biggest crowd of the season and things looked to get worse when Nguyen’s 57th minute penalty kick attempt was saved. But the Revolution bounced back with Fagundez’s controversial goal just a minute later and Nguyen capped it off with the game winner in his second attempt from the spot just minutes after Matt Reis kept the match level with a spectacular save.
“That’s not exactly how you draw it up,” said Revolution head coach Jay Heaps. “For us we needed to win a game where we didn’t start well and the game was kind of against us in terms of the own goal and their energy was really good, so we had to battle that back. So for me, I thought it was a really good turnaround. We had a good conversation at halftime and in the second half I thought we really took the game and created a lot of chances.”
Heaps made two changes to the line-up that lost 3-2 at the Chicago Fire last weekend. Reis – who would prove the hero with his 81st minute save – returned from suspension and got the start over Bobby Shuttleworth in goal, while A.J. Soares replaced Stephen McCarthy at center back.
After a slow start for both teams, D.C. United took the lead through an own goal in the 11th minute. A Luis Silva cross looked to be easily collect by Reis, but rookie Revolution midfield Scott Caldwell slid in and directed it into the net for an own goal, gifting the visitors a 1-0 lead.
“It’s obviously devastating when that happens that early in the game or any point in the game,” said Caldwell. “But the way my teammates kind of picked me up, responded so quickly, the way we played out the rest of the half and the rest of the game in general was huge. To see us respond from a down moment in the game and play to win the game and that’s the big point – we won.”
New England’s first real chance came in the 24th minute when Andrew Farrell picked out Dimitry Imbongo on the right flank with a long ball and the physical striker managed to outmaneuver two defenders before hitting a left footed shot wide of the near post from the top of the box.
Two minutes later New England had another opportunity when Lee Nguyen was played into the right side of the box by Imbongo. Nguyen cut back and took a few touches to open up some space before sending a shot just wide of the far post.
The Revolution again threatened in the 36th minute after Kelyn Rowe got the ball in the left side of the box from Chris Tierney and dribbled around a pair of defenders to find an opening. Rowe attempted a shot to the near post, but his effort was just on the wrong side of the post and the Revolution went into the half time break down 1-0.
In desperate need of a victory, the Revolution pushed forward in the second half and Saer Sene wasted a good early spell of possession with several players in dangerous positions in the box, by weakly hitting a shot to D.C. keeper Bill Hamid.
New England then had a golden opportunity to knot the score in the 57th minute when Lee Nguyen went down under a challenge from Dejan Jakovic, earning a controversial penalty kick. Nguyen stepped up to take the penalty, but hit it weakly, allowing Hamid to easily make the save.
Diego Fagundez would knot the score a minute later when Sene played him behind the defense. Fagundez ran in on goal and slotted a shot past Hamid to make it 1-1. Replays appeared to show Fagundez was in an offside position when the pass was played, but the flag stayed down, giving the 18 year old his 11th goal of the season.
“On that goal I saw Saer [Sene] bringing the ball up and I think he just saw me right away and he played a good through ball,” said Fagundez. “I just had to finish the goal and that’s how we tied the game. I think that’s when our energy went up.”
“To tell you the truth I was a little surprised [to see the offside flag stay down] because after I scored the first thing I did was look at the ref,” he added. “It was so close that I have to see it again to see if it was or it wasn’t [offside].”
Nguyen had two quality chances to put the Revolution in the lead in the 69th minute, first with a long blast that Hamid tipped off the crossbar and then off the rebound with a long shot that Hamid tipped just wide for a corner kick.
Sene then came close in the 78th after getting the ball from Nguyen near the top of the box. Sene spun to find space and hit a low shot that Hamid tipped wide with a diving stop.
Disaster nearly struck the Revolution three minutes later when a defensive miscue allowed substitute Conor Doyle to chip a shot over Reis. As the ball looked bound for the back of the net Reis ran back and managed to scoop the ball off the line to save a certain goal.
“A.J. [Soares] was back and battling for a high ball with [Nick] DeLeon,” said Reis. “Doyle was there also, so it kind of fell to him and I came out, I knew he was going to try and play it over me and luckily for me I didn’t get too far off the ground, so I could kind of recover and just push it away.”
The Revolution finally took the lead in the 83rd minute when Nguyen earned another penalty kick, this one off a foul from Lewis Neal. This time Nguyen made no mistake, hitting it to Hamid’s right, while the keeper dove the other way.
“I knew it was a mind game after [the first penalty save] because he read the first one,” said Nguyen. “I was thinking about going down the middle after that and it was just great to have the confidence from my teammates and the coaching staff. Chris [Tierney] also said think about going down the middle too, so he had a little confidence in me going down the middle, so that’s all I needed.”
The home side continued to keep the pressure on D.C. as the match wore on and easily held on for the crucial 2-1 victory.
New England remains home and will face the Houston Dynamo on Saturday at Gillette Stadium at 7:30 p.m.
“For me and for our team, we’re going one game at a time,” said Heaps. “So every game we step on the field we’re preparing for a must win. I think we’re at the point of the season now where points are vital and we have to go out there and do whatever we can to get three, especially at home.”