Lively Revs draw with Fire

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Rajko Lekic scored the second goal of his Revolution career canceling out a first half Chicago Fire lead, but the home side failed to convert another of their numerous chances and was forced to settle for a 1-1 draw.

Rajko Lekic was relieved to finally score his second goal of the season on Saturday. (Photo by CHRIS ADUAMA/aduama.com)

The Revs (3-7-5, 14 points), facing their second struggling Eastern Conference opponent this week in the Fire (2-4-8, 14 points), had ample opportunities to find a winner in what was a back-and-forth affair in front of a crowd of 14,246 at Gillette Stadium. In the end, both sides would rue their missed breaks as the 1-1 draw kept each team firmly entrenched near the bottom of the standings.

“It’s disappointing,” said Revolution head coach Steve Nicol. “To be honest, it feels like a loss, coming in at halftime one down when we should be three up. Defensively we’ve been great this year; tonight we defended terribly. But saying that, going forward we created chances.”

The Fire would take the lead shortly past the half hour mark when Patrick Nyarko managed to get the ball from the Revs’ Sainey Nyassi and quickly found Dominic Oduro streaking forward. Oduro managed to find space around Darrius Barnes and slotted a shot past Revs ‘keeper Matt Reis to give the Fire a 1-0 advantage.

New England was unable to respond in the first half despite numerous opportunities, but Lekic would finally answer four minutes after halftime. A long Barnes throw-in was cleared out by the Fire, but fell to Pat Phelan at the top of the box who mishit a shot. His effort, however, found a wide open Lekic, who had been kept onside by a late step forward from the Fire’s defense. Lekic, with plenty of time, turned and easily blasted a shot past Fire goalie Sean Johnson for his second goal of the season and first since April 23rd.

“I played maybe 5, 6, or 7 games without scoring a goal and I’m here to score to score goals,” said Lekic. “So it’s a tough time for me. Then when I saw the ball in the net today it was big time for me.”

For the second straight game Lekic was partnered up top with Kenny Mansally as the Revs utilized a 4-4-2 formation. Injuries forced head coach Steve Nicol to switch the team up behind them however as right midfielder Zak Boggs and center back Ryan Cochrane were replaced by Nyassi and Franco Coria, respectively.

The Revs came out positive earning a pair of early corners, but it was Chicago who would threaten the net first in the fifth minute. Jalil Anibaba collected the ball about 30 yards from goal and blasted a shot on frame. His effort was targeted for just under the crossbar, but Reis got a hand on the shot to tip it high.

Early signs that the Revs defense was in for a rough night appeared in the 16th minute when Cristian Nazarit created a great chance for himself by coolly dribbling around Franco Coria at the top of the box and eluding two sliding defenders before blasting a shot towards the upper corner. His attempt was high of the target.

“They have a lot of fast players,” said rookie center back A.J. Soares. “We have a lot of guys up high, so they’re always going to be dangerous whenever the ball comes forward for them because they leave numbers up.”

The Revs had an opportunity to take an early lead in the 21st minute when Nyassi found Lekic in the left side of the box. The Danish striker collected the ball and volleyed a shot on frame, but it was right at Johnson, who punched the effort back out.

Lekic had another opportunity for the Revs in the seven minutes later after Kevin Alston headed down a long pass from Barnes at the top of the box. Lekic hit a left footed shot target for just inside the far post, but Johnson just managed to tip wide with a diving save.

The Fire responded with a great chance of their own on a fantastic long shot from Nyarko. Reis made an equally impressive save to keep the match scoreless.

After Chicago took the lead through Oduro in the 32nd minute, Mansally should have equalized for the Revs seven minutes later after he beat his defender to a Nyassi cross just five yards from goal. Mansally blasted a header from close range, but couldn’t keep his shot on frame.

Five minutes after Lekic scored the equalizer in the second half, Soares nearly put the Revs in the lead after Chris Tierney found him open at the near post on a corner kick. Soares redirected the ball on frame to the near post, but it was cleared off the line by a Fire defender.

Looking to find a late winner, the Revs inserted newcomer Ryan Guy for his debut in place of Tierney in the 71st minute. Three minutes later it was Guy making a huge play on the defensive end, jumping up to head an Orr Barouch header off a Fire corner kick off the line to keep the score even.

Barouch nearly set up Oduro for a fantastic chance in the 80th minute on a quick counterattack. Barouch found  Oduro in space on the right side of the box and the speedy midfielder powered a shot on frame that Reis just tipped high.

“[Chicago has] pace … so if we’re in bad spots, it’s going to be harder to deal with,” said Nicol. “Had we been in better positions, we wouldn’t have had such a problem with it.”

Reis came up huge again for the Revs a minute later when Nazarit with his back to goal set up substitute Daniel Paladini at the top of the box. Paladini hit a rocket on target that Reis managed to tip high.

Substitute Gabriel Ferrari had a chance for a late winner for Chicago in the 88th minute after a deflected pass sent him behind the defense. Ferrari ran in on goal, but Reis held his line to make a great save and preserve the tie.

“We didn’t really play in the second half,” said Revs midfielder Pat Phelan. “It turned into a kind of kick and run which doesn’t really suit us.”

The Fire continued their offensive assault in stoppage time when a long throw-in made its way to Oduro just outside the six yard box. Oduro volleyed a shot towards goal, but Barnes slid in to block the shot.

“The last 10 minutes, I’d have to say the midweek game caught up with us,” said Nicol. “We ran out of legs. We tried to get forward, when you’re doing that when you’re tired, you’re going to leave holes.”

Lekic had one last chance for the Revs with the final kick of stoppage time. A long throw-in from Barnes found Lekic who juggled the ball in the air and turned on his defender at the top of the box before volleying a left footed shot that was just wide of the post.

The Revs now head on the road to take on the Seattle Sounders next Sunday, June 26 at 4 p.m., before heading to Utah to face Real Salt Lake on July 4.

“The fact that we’re not winning games is going to hurt us in the long run,” said Reis. “We’ve really put ourselves in a tough situation. We’ve got a lot of games coming up in a short amount of time and it’s starting to get to the middle of the season where everybody’s really getting tired.”

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About Sean Donahue

Sean Donahue has been covering the New England Revolution since 2002 for various publications. He has covered four MLS Cups, in addition to covering various international matches, including World Cup Qualifying and the CONCACAF Gold Cup. He has done freelance work for the AP and ESPN Boston. Sean hosted Revolution Recap, a weekly radio program covering the New England Revolution and U.S. Men's National Team from 2005-2008. He is a member of the North American Soccer Reporters. Sean can be reached at nesoccertoday@gmail.com or followed on twitter @SeanLDonahue