The New England Revolution waited a long time for this one. After ten games of heartbreak, bad luck, and poor play, they finally broke their winless streak with a 2-0 victory over the Columbus Crew. Dimitry Imbongo's first MLS goal was the decider, with an own goal from Chad Marshall added for insurance.
"It was a good result for us," said head coach Jay Heaps. "It was nice to end this [winless] streak to be honest with you. Just a tough road, but I think the guys came out tonight and played really well. Showed a lot of heart."
New England started off the match in great form, peppering the Crew goal with chances and generally dominating proceedings, as evidenced by the Revs' 10 shots (six on goal) compared the Crew's three (none on target). If not for the incredible efforts of Andy Gruenebaum, the Revolution could have easily held a 3-0 lead going into the half.
Diego Fagundez and Lee Nguyen had the half's best opportunities. Nguyen had a direct free kick saved by Gruenebaum; regardless, it was probably the most dangerous free kick a Revolution player has managed all year. Fagundez fashioned many chances, but none were more spectacular than his attempted aerial bicycle kick that was saved by Gruenebaum in the 30th minute.
"I think me and Dimitry [Imbongo] both came onto the field thinking that we needed to do something," said Fagundez. "Both of our main forwards are out - Jerry [Bengtson] who's out with Honduras and Saer [Sene] who picked up an injury - so me and Dimitry got together and both said we need to do something right now and that this was our game to help out the team."
In the second half, the Revs jumped out with a similar vigor. Kelyn Rowe wasted a good set-up from Fagundez in the 47th, while Nguyen showcased his class by splitting three defenders before putting the ball over the bar when he really needed to do better.
Finally, the Revs had their breakthrough. Dimitry Imbongo flicked on a Florian Lechner throw with his head, springing Fagundez in on goal. The young attacker managed to get a shot off but saw it hit the post before rebounding into the area in front of an open goalmouth. Fagundez recovered and touched it on for Imbongo, who slammed it home for his first-ever goal in MLS play.
The inclusion of Chris Tierney, who made his 100th appearance with the Revolution on Wednesday night, lead to the match's second goal in the 74th minute. Matt Reis lofted the ball toward Tierney. The Wellesley native, playing left wing, headed it on toward Imbongo, who was dueling with Chad Marshall. Marshall tried to head the ball to his goalkeeper, but with Imbongo pressuring him, committed a costly miscue and headed over Gruenebaum and into the net.
"I thought [Dimitry] Imbongo was excellent tonight," said Heaps. "He worked hard. He battled Chad Marshall, who is arguably one of the best center backs in the league and the best player in the air. And I thought Dimitry absolutely met him challenge for challenge, and step for step, and it was a really good game for Imbongo."
Getting some consistent energy in the offense was important, but the effort of a defense that managed a second-straight shutout despite missing two first-choice players cannot be overstated. Darrius Barnes had a very strong outing, while Stephen McCarthy was imperious as the aerial enforcer in front of an excellent Matt Reis.
"Columbus is a rhythm team and we never really let them get into rhythm," said Heaps. "And that was important that [Jairo] Arrieta and [Federico] Higuain couldn't get the ball. And that was our focus - when they did get the ball, we wanted a guy on them quickly. You could see when Higuain would get the ball we were on him, and he started to drift wider and we knew to take him there. So we did a good job across the back line."
Statistically, the match could not have been better for the Revs. Although they lost the overall possession battle 45.7% to 54.3%, the rest of the stats tell a different story. New England finished with 20 shots, eight of them on target and three blocked, while the Crew had just seven; less than the Revs managed in either single half. The Revs finished with nine corners to Columbus's three. And even with the shutout, Matt Reis was forced into just three saves, all of them in the second half. Gruenebaum conceded twice and was still called upon to make seven saves.
Perhaps nothing was more important than getting that first goal before Columbus had a chance to get back in the match. That, and what Jay Heaps called the "little things."
"[Getting a quick goal to start the second half] was important," said Heaps. "We could sense that the game was going our way, that we were pushing them. And that was why I think we came out a bit sharper. It was all the little things tonight. That's what I'm really most proud of. Even at the end of the game, Fernando [Cardenas] drawing that foul and taking it, and then the guys rallying around each other when Kevin [Alston] got kicked at the end.
"Those are really important things, and things we're getting better at and things we need to continue to get better at."