With eight players on the injury report, a U.S. World Cup veteran suspended, and nothing left to play for but pride, the New England Revolution could have been forgiven for mailing in a slack performance in their last home match of the 2012 season at Gillette Stadium on Saturday night. Instead, they came out inspired, and executed a well-drawn game plan to perfection as the Revs defeated the playoff-bound Chicago Fire 1-0 before a raucous crowd of 25,534.
"I think we all had good communication and we knew what we were doing going into the game and we knew what we wanted," said midfielder Blair Gavin, who made his regular-season Revolution debut, starting in midfield in the win. "We were solving problems before they happened. I think that was a big key to our success."
Chicago entered the match riding rather high, having already clinched second place and a playoff berth in the Eastern Conference. The Fire were playing for home field advantage in the playoffs next month, and the attacking combination of Chris Rolfe and Sherjill MacDonald is widely regarded as one of the most potent in MLS. Most pundits probably expected the Fire to come out victorious.
Instead, Rolfe and MacDonald were essentially non-factors in a match that the Revs stifled from the first minute onward. To call it a negative performance would do New England a disservice, but the home side definitely came out with a plan and implemented that with ruthless efficiency.
"Our game plan was to take Chris Rolfe out," said head coach Jay Heaps. "Chris Rolfe has been, for me, their best player. I think that Clyde (Simms) did an amazing job. He had a quiet night, Clyde did, but when you go back and look - I implore all of you to go back and look - the work Clyde put in tonight, wherever Chris Rolfe was, Clyde was there."
Simms did put in a masterful shift as the deepest-lying central midfielder in a fluid sort of 4-1-4-1, but he wasn't the only player making great defensive plays and doing his job well. It was a complete team effort to shut down the Fire attack in all phases.
The end result was a match in which goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth saw almost no action. His first - and only - save of the evening came in the 86th minute off a tame shot from Patrick Nyarko. Otherwise, the New England box was mostly untroubled by an uncharacteristically anemic Fire attack.
Diego Fagundez provided the spark in a match that might have otherwise had 0-0 written all over it. In the 18th minute, he received the ball at midfield and strode forward, looking for a passing option. When none presented itself, he instead uncorked a stunning drive that soared past Sean Johnson to the far post and in the back of the net for Fagundez's second goal of the season, and the only goal the Revs would need to win.
"Everyone was playing well," said Fagundez, who celebrated by revealing to the crowd a shirt bearing happy birthday wishes for his mother. "We were just moving the ball and Kelyn (Rowe) just played it through the middle and I was just making a good run. Once I got to the top of 18, I was trying to pass but nobody was open so I saw the back post and took that shot and it went in.
"[Winning tonight is] special always because a lot of people came to the first game (of the season) and we won and even more people came to this game and we came away with three points," he added. "It was something special for everyone and I just think it was great."