The story of the New England Revolution’s regular season has been the convergence of a talented 22-and-under core that includes players like Diego Fagundez, Juan Agudelo, Kelyn Rowe, Scott Caldwell and Andrew Farrell.
But there’s been an entirely different storyline to the Revs’ lead in and run through their first MLS Playoff appearance in four seasons, which began with a 2-1 victory over Sporting KC at Gillette Stadium on Saturday night.
The Revolution’s 37-year-old head coach Jay Heaps has also received significant contributions from two of the only thirty-somethings on the roster, calling on a little help from former teammates Matt Reis and Andy Dorman.
“It’s like we’re at halftime, so we are up 2-1 at halftime and the more goals we have, the more pressure we can put on them,” said Reis, who made two saves and mostly shut down a pestering Kansas City attack. “It’s going to be a tough task going in (to Kansas City) and getting a result but I like our chances.”
They’ll play the second leg of the series at 9 p.m. Wednesday in Kansas City.
“It’s a big chess game,” Reis said. “We’re playing the same formations, we’re matching up out there, so there are a lot of little things we have to move around.”
The old eagle in net was in postseason form, coming up with reactive saves on a Teal Bunbury 38th-minute chance and Dom Dwyer in second half added time.
“His reflexes are pretty amazing,” Heaps said. “I don’t think there’s been a better goalie in the league that has reflexes like that.”
The 38-year-old keeper, who joined the Revs in 2003, two years after Heaps, has strung together a serious late-career revival, proving he’s still among the best with one of the best seasons of any keeper in the MLS, albeit in limited games.
Reis became the first goalie in league history to make 10 or more starts and go undefeated, taking a 7-0-4 record over 12 starts into the postseason. The one game where Reis did not factor into the decision was a 4-2 home loss to the Montreal Impact on Sept. 8, the low point of fall soccer in New England.
He was shown a controversial red card at the outset, sending Montreal to a 1-0 lead on the resulting penalty kick, but Fagundez leveled in the 26th minute, taking Reis out of the equation as Shuttleworth allowed in three more to take the loss.
The Revs’ longest-tenured player, Reis – now in his 11th season with the team, and 16th year in the league – also qualified for and finished first in MLS in goals against average at 0.72 per game, which includes five shutouts in 12 chances.
Dorman held up his end replacing Caldwell as New England’s box-to-box midfielder. He made himself useful in the 55th minute, getting on the end of a pinball play that started with a Fagundez shot. Dorman finished it, coolly.
That triumph was his first MLS goal since July 2007, having left the club for the Scottish Premier League after losing to the Los Angeles Galaxy, 1-0, in the 2007 MLS Cup, the last of three consecutive finalist finishes for the Revolution.
The 31-year-old Dorman was in New England from 2004 to ’07, appearing in all three of those cup finals and playing in 102 league matches over that stretch.
Heaps waxed poetic about Dorman after a 3-2 result in a must-win game against the Columbus Crew on Oct. 19. “Andy Dorman, from the time he got here – I don’t know how many years ago, when I was a teammate of his – to this game, tonight you felt very comfortable with Andy Dorman out there,” Heaps said.
He appeared sporadically throughout the 2013 season, but gained Heaps’ confidence with the team’s back against the wall late in the year, subbing in for Caldwell in the 56th minute of an Oct. 5 draw, 2-2 at the New York Red Bulls.
The Revs equalized after Dorman came on – though he was subsequently ejected as part of the game’s controversial finish – securing a crucial point that helped them to the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference and a semifinal berth.
Dorman returned for New England’s regular season-ending home-and-home series with the Columbus Crew, going all 90 minutes in both wins.
The Welshman – who replaced the suspended Lee Nguyen in the starting lineup – starred in the Revolution’s home finale, a 3-2 win in front of a season-best crowd of 26,458 out in Foxboro. Dorman drew the whistles that preceded A.J. Soares’ 32nd-minute set piece goal and Lee Nguyen’s 69th-minute penalty. He then assisted on Fagundez’s match-winner seven minutes later.
Heaps called the performance “gigantic.”
“He won everything in the air that he could get his head to, he controlled the middle,” Heaps said after that win. “To me, it showed he was a player that wanted to win it and he was the one who got the game-winning assist.”
That performance assured Dorman would keep his spot in the lineup for the season finale, even with Nguyen’s return.
Heaps’ confidence in Reis came to the fore in August after a summer slump.
Bobby Shuttleworth had started 20 consecutive matches, but Reis got the call in a 2-0 shutout against the Chicago Fire and Mike Magee on Aug. 17.
Reis has spent the last three months as Heaps’ first-choice keeper, starting 11 of the Revs’ last 12 matches – the lone outlier was a 3-2 loss to Chicago on Sept. 14 with Shuttleworth in goal as Reis served his suspension for the red card against Montreal.