FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – A slow start and lack of decisiveness in the final third proved a disastrous combination for the New England Revolution (1-1-3, 6 points) as they fell 2-0 to Real Salt Lake (3-0-0, 9 points), ending the home side’s unbeaten run at four.
Referee Jasen Anno stole the show late with three questionable red cards, including two to the Revolution, but it was the Revs lack of cohesiveness that left them in a two goal hole shortly after halftime. Playing a Salt Lake side that rested several key players after a midweek game, the Revs were on the back foot early and gave up the lead 27 minutes into the match.
“I guess there’s no hiding behind it; we weren’t good,” said Revs head coach Steve Nicol. “First half we probably found their men more times than we found our own and if you’re doing that, I don’t care who you’re playing against, you’re going to be in trouble. You have to give them credit. They had great shape, kept solid and just tried to hit us on the break.”
Salt Lake’s opening goal came after a long Ned Grabavoy shot was denied by the post and the Revs defense opted to clear the rebound out for a corner. Collen Warner took the ensuing corner and found Chris Schuler who beat Ryan Cochrane to the ball and headed it past Bobby Shuttleworth and inside the far post to give Real the 1-0 lead.
“The first [goal] I’m calling for it and I’ve got to get through the guy,” said Shuttleworth. “The first one is definitely on me.”
The Revs came out stronger in the second half after making a pair of offensive subs at halftime, but it was Salt Lake who would double the deficit after just two minutes on a quick counter attack. Warner stole ball from Shalrie Joseph and played a through pass behind the Revs defense where Paulo Araujo Jr. beat Franco Coria for speed. One-on-one with the keeper, Aruajo Jr. ran in on goal before slotting it past Shuttleworth, who opted to stay on his line, doubling the visitor’s lead.
“When you are losing 1-0 you step on the field more aggressive and with more pressure willing to change things,” said Ilija Stolica. “Then if you get [scored on] in the first counter that’s really hard to come back from, especially psychologically.”
The match deteriorated after the 70th minute when Revs captain Shalrie Joseph was ejected for a confrontation with Kyle Beckerman. Fifteen minutes after that Pat Phelan and Salt Lake’s Will Johnson were given their marching orders.
After a tough road trip to Costa Rica on Tuesday that saw Salt Lake advance to the CONCACAF Champions League Final, the visitors opted to rested nine starters including goalkeeper Nick Rimando, defenders Nat Borhers, Jamison Olave and Chris Wingert, midfielders Javier Morales, Beckerman and Andy Williams, and strikers Fabian Espindola and Alvaro Saborio.
Those changes hardly seemed to matter as after the early going Salt Lake had the better of the play throughout the match and threatened first the 21st minute after earning a seemingly harmless free kick about 40-yards from goal. Stand-in captain Will Johnson stepped up to take the free kick and blasted a shot targeted for the upper right corner. Only a diving save from Shuttleworth kept Real from taking the lead in spectacular fashion.
Six minutes later Schuler would put Salt Lake in the lead with his first career goal.
The Revs, who lost A.J. Soares to suspension, saw Marco Perovic and Franco Coria return from hamstring strains to start. It was Perovic that finally got the Revs on the attack 42nd minute, finding Kevin Alston in space on the right. Alston sent a nice cross into the box finding Pat Phelan about 10 yards from goal. Phelan’s header was well wide of the near post.
The Revs switched things up at half time, going to a 4-4-2 formation and bringing on Ilija Stolica and Sainey Nyassi in place of Zack Schilawski and Stephen McCarthy.
The moves looked to pay immediate dividends as Stolica combined with Perovic to create a chance in the box, but Perovic was quickly closed by three defenders before he could unleash a shot. On the ensuing counter attack Salt Lake doubled their lead.
Perovic showed a glimpse of his capabilities in the 59th minute, getting the ball on the right wing and cutting inside towards the box. Perovic unleashed a shot from just outside the box that curled wide of the net.
But it took solo efforts like Perovic’s for the Revs to create chances as the team largely struggled to string together passes in the final third.
“That’s one of the crucial points for us,” said Stolica. “We have to get [the service in the final third] better because without having good balls for strikers, without serving good balls, without good crosses, without creating a lot of opportunities, it’s very hard especially because strikers are the most dependent on the other parts of the team.”
Nine minutes later it was Perovic again with a good effort after getting the ball just outside the box from Kenny Mansally. Perovic, in space, sent a quick shot on goal, but Reynish grabbed it with a diving save.
The situation grew even worse for the Revs in the 70th minute when Joseph was sent off. Joseph raised his hand in confrontation with substitute Kyle Beckerman, but barely appeared to touch the Salt Lake midfielder. Joseph was immediately sent off by Anno despite the minimal contact.
Things began to get out of hand in the 85th minute when Phelan was sent off for a late slide tackle on Robbie Russell. Didier Domi was issued a yellow card for pushing after the play, as was Will Johnson, who was sent off for his second caution of the game, leaving Salt Lake with 10 men and the Revs with nine.
The Revs then survived a few late chances from Salt Lake before heading to the locker room with their first loss of the young season.
“It’s one more game,” said Stolica. “It is bad we lost, but we have to look forward because until now we had good results. We have to analyze this game and get ready for the next one. This is about soccer, every weekend it’s a new challenge. We have to forget this as soon as possible and go into the next game.”