New England Soccer Today

Lucky Ducks

To butcher a perfectly good line from Chazz Palminteri’s A Bronx Tale: If it wasn’t for bad luck, the Revolution wouldn’t have had any luck at all last season.

Think about it. The club employed three starting keepers, struggled to score during an embarrassing nine match stretch between May 5 through June 27th in which they were blanked eight times, conceded crucial points down the stretch after leaking late goals against Dallas and Salt Lake in back-to-back matches, and dropped a small collection of matches by the scores of 5-0, 4-0, and 3-0 (twice).

And that doesn’t even touch upon the surge of injuries that engulfed the squad from top to bottom. Sure, injuries are a part of the game and impact every team, whether they’re good, bad, or mediocre. No club can stay 100% fit throughout a 30-game season.

But, when Taylor Twellman, one of the best goalscorers the league’s ever seen, is shelved for the entire season and Steve Ralston, the MLS Ironman himself, returns after a brief spell in St. Louis and promptly breaks his arm two minutes into his encore, well, it almost seemed as if something sinister was afoot.

Whether it was dark forces or simply a series of odd coincidences, it was clear that the Revs couldn’t buy a break with a blank check last season. At least, not with all of the black cats, shattered mirrors, and spilled salt that must have lingered around the Revolution locker room.

Fortunately, last season is over, and with it, their astounding run of bad breaks (both figuratively and literally) and terrible luck. At least, that’s the way it looks this early in the 2011 regular season.

For proof, just look at Sunday’s match against the Galaxy – the same Galaxy that claimed the 2010 Supporters’ Shield. One of the highest scoring offenses hosting a club that allowed a league-worst 50 goals last season. Talk about a mismatch of epic proportions. This one had “Galaxy victory” written all over it the moment the league announced its 2011 home openers last December.

Then, something startling happened. On their first set piece of the season, Marko Perovic placed a perfect ball to Shalrie Joseph, who nodded it into the net for the 1-0 lead in the third minute. What was that? Whether it was pure skill or sheer serendipity, one thing was clear:  it probably wouldn’t have happened last season.

There was more. Thirteen minutes later, with the Galaxy surging inside the Revolution end, Juninho scored the equalizer. 1-1. Bookies rejoiced. Order was restored. Right?

Uh, wrong. During the scoring sequence, referee Hilario Grajeda saw something so egregious that he whistled Mike Magee for a foul inside the box, thus nullifying what would have been a goal in most circles. Even after numerous views of the alleged offense, one question remains unanswered: what did Grajeda see?

However, the Galaxy were determined their avenge their lost goal. In the 23rd, the Revolution defense collapsed after David Beckham sent a dangerous free kick into the box. After the ball bounced around the area, Magee put one through to an open goal. Vindication. There was just one small problem, though: he and two of his anxious teammates were offside.

Although the Revs eventually conceded a controversy-free goal after a Juninho masterpiece in the 39th minute, they nearly claimed the game-winner in the second half.

With a Zack Schilawski shot deflecting his way, Joseph went one on one with Galaxy keeper Josh Saunders before the skipper pounded it off the post in the 65th minute. Perhaps the tough luck had simply stuck on the berm side of the Home Depot Center?

But, that theory didn’t hold for very long. With the score still knotted at one apiece, the Galaxy were bitten again on the other side of the field in stoppage time. In the 92nd minute, substitute Juan Pablo Angel took a hold of a Beckham pass and put it past Reis before the linesman – you guessed it – whistled the Colombian striker offside. Three goals nullified in less than 90 minutes.

When it was all said and done, the Revolution were the luckier than a teeny bopper with a backstage pass to a Justin Bieber concert. And it was more than just the bad goals or the quick lead.

Had the typically-sunny Southern California weather cooperated, it’s likely that the potent Galaxy attack would have easily dug in and put a legit three-spot on the board. Simple as that.

In addition to the weather, what the heck got into Revolution manager Steve Nicol? Not only did he bypass the standard 4-4-2, but rather, unleashed a 4-3-2-1 opting for Schilawski up top over Ilija Stolica. A gamble? You bet. A lucky one at that, too.

Last year, the Revolution were maddeningly predictable. Although it’s only the first of 34 games on the schedule, it looks like the boys in blue may have banished the bad luck monster. And they did it against one of the strongest clubs in the league. On the road. In the pouring rain. And they came within inches of pocketing three points.

If Sunday’s rain-soaked affair against the Galaxy proved anything, it’s the idea that the bad luck the Revolution battled last season seems to have finally subsided. And not a moment to soon.

After all, sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.

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