There are plenty of things that the Revolution have missed out on in the last four years. You know, besides the postseason. And on Saturday, we witnessed something extraordinary that we hadn’t seen, felt or experienced at Gillette Stadium in a long time: a bonafide playoff atmosphere.
Yes, it was thrilling to see the local XI take three different leads, even if a suspect defense may have been partly the reason. The image of Diego Fagundez, the Homegrown star himself, scoring the game-winner is something that won’t fade from our memory anytime soon. That Andy Dorman played out of his mind was a treat in itself, and in its own unique way, allowed us to recall the postseason glory days of the mid-2000s. Oh, and the fact that offense was firing on all cylinders certainly made it a match to remember.
But what really made it memorable is that so many – 26,458 – turned out to see it. What a scene it was: the flags were flying in The Fort, the lower bowl was nearly full, and the energy and electricity was something that could only be felt by those who were there.
And it wasn’t just one of those standard, late-season big crowds we’ve grown accustomed to seeing in recent years. No, this one was different. Much different. To be fair, the club’s postseason fortunes, or lack thereof, may have played a part in taming those crowds in the past.
Another amazing thing about the crowd is that there was plenty else going on in Boston at Fenway Park. When the Red Sox are in the midst of a playoff run, most New England sports fans are parked in front of their TVs. Yet, on Saturday night, the Revolution were nearly as hot a ticket as their sporting counterparts to the north.
Will we see a similar crowd soon? Let’s hope so. Because for the first time in a long time, the excitement surrounding the local XI was undeniably palpable.
Big crowds and goal bonanzas aside, what else did we learn from Saturday’s clash with the Crew?
1. He may only be 18, but Diego Fagundez is on the verge of greatness. We all know by now that Fagundez is a talent to behold. To be fair, that’s pretty much a given for any player who signs a pro contract before he’s old enough to drive. But not all teenage sensations pan out or reach a tenth of the potential that many initially envision. Yes, we’re talking about you, Freddy Adu. Wherever you are. What’s separated Fagundez from many of his peers is that he’s already reached a level that some of his biggest backers didn’t think he’d achieve until later in his career. And it’s not just that he’s doing it now – he’s doing it with the full knowledge that he is the face of the franchise. Pressure? You could say that. But he’s only risen to the occasion, and Saturday’s contest was perhaps the most convincing example of that. In a game that flip-flopped more than a politician at the podium, Fagundez put his stamp on the game by scoring the game-winner. The game-winner in the most important match of the season. It’s time to start saying it – Fagundez is a great player – a player who, as we’ve seen, has continued to rise to the occasion.
2. Andy Dorman should start next week at Columbus – even at the expense of Scott Caldwell or Lee Nguyen. If you like surprises, then you must have thoroughly loved what you saw at Gillette Stadium on Saturday. Besides, you know, Chris Tierney scoring from the spot. Who thought we’d ever see that? But anyway, the most surprising development, of course, was the performance everyone’s favorite Welshman put together. While some – including us – were somewhat concerned about the possibility of another ejection, Dorman did well to make Columbus see red. Now, the foul he suffered on the first goal may have been more of a result of sloppy, misguided defending more than anything else, as Rick Sewall pointed out in his excellent column. But, hey, a foul’s a foul, and in this scenario, it was a fortuitous one for the hosts. Dorman suffered another foul inside the area to set up Tierney’s strike from the spot, even if he really wasn’t in a great position to score when it happened. Of course, there was no doubt about quality when he sent a delicious delivery to Diego at the back post to set up the game-winner. The scoresheet may only show one assist, but there’s no doubt that Dorman’s contributions were much bigger. Big enough to earn another start on Sunday.
3. The late defensive subs signal that Jay Heaps is serious about shutting all the doors. Remember when the credo was “We’re going to attack” and stepping on the accelerator? Well, that’s a great mindset for team that came off its worst season in franchise history, one which included a brutal 4-4 draw in Philadelphia that saw some curious defensive subs in the second half. To an extent, it’s something that the Revolution desperately needed to do last year to restore hope that this club wasn’t going to be okay playing boring, unimaginative soccer. The growing pains were there, to be sure. However, once the club showed it could keep an opponent off the board, that modus operandi was tweaked. In the past, attacking subs were the order of business, regardless of the score more often than not. Then, something curious happened on Saturday: Heaps used not one, but two defensive subs after the Fagundez goal. With five goals already on the board, and plenty of time for more before the final whistle, Heaps decided to go defensive. True, Tierney may have suffered a right foot injury, so the sub for Kevin Alston makes sense. Yet, once he brought on Stephen McCarthy for Scott Caldwell, it was clear: it was time to close the floodgates. With five defenders. Attack-first? Not quite.
4. Jerry Bengtson’s confidence is still torn to shreds. Somebody needs to give Bengtson a hug. Or a cookie. Because even though Heaps backed his struggling striker on Saturday, the Honduran remained a shell of his international self. In 65 minutes of action, Bengtson looked like he wanted to aid the cause. He was able to test Matt Lampson early – OK, test may not be the most accurate term here – but on a breakway late in the first half, he searched for a teammate instead of setting his sights on goal. Moreso, he only connected on 50 percent of his passes, signaling an obvious inability to consistently connect with co-workers. If that isn’t a snapshot of a shaken player, then these last five games haven’t been must-wins for the Revolution (right, Simon?). Give Heaps credit for showing confidence in his high-priced poacher. Hypothetically, it was the perfect opportunity for him to show everyone that he’s still a solid striker. A week before, he scored an important goal against Costa Rica in World Cup Qualifying – something that’ll boost the self-esteem of any #9. But it was more of the same from Bengtson on Saturday, which all but signals that he’s in dire need of a change of scenery.
5. Juan Agudelo should return to the striker’s spot for Sunday. Given the kind of performance the aforementioned Honduran had, it was even more discouraging knowing that a better option was right on the field. Slotted on a winger/withdrawn forward role, Agudelo had a rather milquetoast match. Sure, he fired three shots, with one on target. But within the course of a full 90 in which five goals were scored, it was not the type of stuff we’ve come to know and expect from the talented 20-year-old. Granted, he drew four fouls – one fewer than Dorman, who led the team with five – and didn’t exactly hurt the offense, given how it played. Then again, Agudelo is an impact player – an impact player who’s bound for Stoke at the end of the year. Knowing this, is there any valid reason why he shouldn’t be the starting striker on Sunday?