If Jose Moreno was expecting his New England Revolution home debut against D.C. United to be all sunshine and roses, he would have been half right. The sun did shine, temperatures crested 65° (or thereabouts), and Moreno even scored a goal, but it was not enough as the Revs fell 2-1 to the Black and Red on the strength of goals from Maicon Santos and substitute Chris Pontius.
"It was a bright start, and that was about it," said head coach Jay Heaps after the match. "In the first half, I was pretty disappointed with the way we performed. Just really couldn't get a rhythm, couldn't get our game."
New England did open up fairly well, causing problems in the United defense early before Pepe Moreno broke the deadlock in the 6th minute. Lee Nguyen, who started the match despite being forced to take an IV before the game due to a 100-plus degree fever, received the ball at midfield and played an excellent floor pass in front of Saer Sene, who was streaking down the left touchline. The Frenchman picked his head up and played a left-footed cross into the six-yard box, where Moreno was lurking. The Colombian target man finished with a great first-time right-footed volley, opening his MLS account and silencing many who doubted his desire to be in Foxboro.
Celebrations were short-lived, however, as DC grew into the game quickly. With New England missing captain and midfield general Shalrie Joseph in the middle, the play began to get away from them, which showed in the numbers, where the Revs only managed 42% possession and 70.3% passes completed.
"Obviously, Shalrie being out creates a bit of a problem for us, and we missed his ability to control the tempo of the game," said goalkeeper Matt Reis, who is left still chasing his 100th MLS win. "They came at us with a little bit of pressure and that disrupted us a bit, and we could have used him there, putting his foot on the ball."
In the 19th minute, it was Joseph's size and marking ability that the Revs could have used. Nick DeLeon floated a corner toward the far post near the edge of the box, where Dwayne De Rosario lay in wait. The Canadian international attempted an audacious bicycle kick that was deflected onto the head of Maicon Santos, parked in the six-yard box. Santos lost his marker and buried his header past Reis to tie the match up at one apiece.
"Shalrie's our leader," added Heaps. "In situations like today when we were a little bit wayward at times, it would have been nice to have that guy in there, bringing the troops together, bringing the players in line. That shows you what he brings out there."
Although New England fashioned several chances before the half ended, there were stretches where it seemed as though no blue shirt touched the ball for minutes at a time. D.C. was in the driver's seat, but left-back Chris Tierney nearly restored the Revs' advantage off of a pair of free kicks from almost identical positions outside the box. First, in the 28th minute, Tierney tried to keep a free kick low and bent it around the wall toward the far post, but Joe Willis managed to get a hand to it and push it off the post.
"I thought [Willis] was tucked in a little too far," said Tierney. "Usually I just bend that one over the wall, but I thought he was too far behind his wall so I was just trying to slide it, but that's the bounce of the ball sometimes."
Tierney almost scored from the same spot in the 34th minute, but this time he went over the wall, finding side netting. "A little too much whip on it, unfortunately. I got that one up and down, but I just pulled it a little too much."
After the half, the Revs started to get into the flow of the game and created some dangerous sequences. Benny Feilhaber made a welcome return from his lengthy injury layoff, replacing the fever-weakened Nguyen on 55 minutes, and immediately provided something new for the Revs in attack.
"I thought Benny did well when he came in," said Heaps. "I thought he gave us a spark. We asked him to go in there and fight, and that's what he did."
New England pressed to take the game, bringing on Bjorn Runstrom and Fernando Cardenas, but at the very least they appeared set to earn a point. Then, in the 82nd minute, shades of 2011 appeared as a long goalkeeper clearance was headed to Deleon, who headed down to substitute Chris Pontius. Pontius squared off with Stephen McCarthy one-on-one, turned him with a deft drag-back, and bent his finish past Reis inside the far post to seal the win for the visitors.
"In soccer, it only takes a few seconds to score a goal," said former United midfielder Clyde Simms. "It takes a lot of concentration for 90 minutes. As the game goes on, you get a little leggy and a little tired, but that can't an excuse for us. It's something we have to get better with."
The Revs have a long layoff ahead of them with a bye week this upcoming weekend. They will be in back in action on April 28th at Red Bull Arena to take on the New York Red Bulls.