It may not have been the prettiest of points for the New England Revolution, but head coach Steve Nicol has every right to be pleased after last night’s season opener.
Fighting torrential downpours, a rash of injuries, and the defending Supporters’ Shield winners, the Los Angeles Galaxy, on the road in front of a sold out Home Depot Center, the Revs came away with a hard fought 1-1 draw.
“I think the manner in which we did it was a team effort,” Nicol told reporters after the match. “We were in good shape, we defended well, we picked good spots. We are unlucky not to score more than one goal.”
That the Revs did all that while missing several starters is even more impressive. Looking to improve upon a squad that missed out on the playoffs last season, the team added experienced French left back Didier Domi along with fellow countryman, central midfielder Ousmane Dabo, both of whom have seen time in the best leagues of Europe. But, on Sunday, Domi and Dabo were unavailable due to right knee swelling and a right quadriceps strain, respectively.
The Frenchmen weren’t the only ones unable to help the squad. Starting right back Kevin Alston was listed as out on the injury report with a right hamstring strain. Veteran center back Ryan Cochrane, another offseason acquisition, made the trip to L.A., but was struggling with a left abductor strain and found himself on the bench for the entire match.
The injury situation worsened in the 22nd minute, when reigning team MVP Marko Perovic was forced to leave the match after he suffered a left hamstring strain, forcing Kenny Mansally to make an early entrance. The severity of Perovic’s strain and his status for the Revs home opener Saturday are unknown.
All those injuries meant the Revs were forced to play a patchwork lineup. To compensate, center back Darrius Barnes was slotted in at right back, while rookie A.J. Soares made his debut in the center next to another debutant, Argentinean import Franco Coria. Rookie Stephen McCarthy also found his first MLS minutes, getting a start in the center of the midfield.
That lineup shuffling, combined with poor conditions, may have caused havoc to the team. But, outside of some shaky moments in the first half, the team’s form – particularly the defense – held up well.
“I think they did really well,” said veteran goalkeeper Matt Reis of the new backline. “We shifted in slightly and covered. They really didn’t have too many chances. It is something to build on.”
Of course, the slick conditions made some of the sloppiness unavoidable. Reis had a few shaky moments of his own as he struggled to hold the ball amid heavy downpours. In the first half, he coughed up a routine ball, giving the Galaxy an apparent goal before referee Hilario Grajeda whistled the play dead for a foul.
“The conditions weren’t really conducive for good soccer,” said Reis. “It was more of a great battle. Roll up your sleeves and put your galoshes on. That kind of suited us with getting a point.”
Those conditions didn’t stop the Revs from getting off to a particularly quick start, however. Just two and a half minutes into the game, Shalrie Joseph put the club in command off a cross from Perovic to make it 1-0 Revs at three minute mark, the second-fastest start to a season in team history.
“Marko just played a brilliant ball,” said Joseph. “Once he puts it in the air I can go get it. He put it in the perfect area and all I had to do was steer it in. It was just a great ball from Marko and I finished it. It definitely settled us down a little bit having the early goal. It helped our confidence and it helped us relax a little bit.”
While it could be debated just how much that goal settled the Revs down – the team was under constant pressure from the Galaxy attack after scoring until Juninho’s equalizer before halftime – it undoubtedly put them in an enviable position going forward.
The Revs came out much stronger after halftime, however, keeping the Galaxy attack largely at bay and looking much more comfortable throughout the field.
“We needed to get the back four higher up the field,” said Nicol. “Obviously, we played against the wind in the first half which makes it easier for them to squeeze and put you under pressure so that helped us. We had to get the back four up the field to condense that a little bit.”
Neither side managed to create many opportunities in the final 45 minutes, though one gilt-edged chance presented itself in the 65th minute as a deflected shot fell to Joseph alone in the box behind the defense. The skipper attempted a low shot past Galaxy ‘keeper Josh Saunders, but his effort was denied by the post.
“I should have definitely done better,” said Joseph. “It should have been 2-1.”
Both sides could accurately claim they could’ve done more with better luck or better finishing, but the Revs will certainly leave the happier of the two after drawing on the road against their much-fancied opponent. Last year, the team opened the regular season with a 1-0 loss against the same Galaxy in L.A. with a eerily-similar patchwork starting XI, and never seemed to recover. This time, the Revs will be hoping to build upon an important point and take confidence into their home opener this Saturday against D.C. United.
“It is always good to get a point on the road,” said Reis. “If you look at it at the end of the year, if you get a point out of every road game, that is great.”