The New England Revolution packed numbers behind the ball and played very negatively at times, but in the end they were rewarded with a 1-0 victory over the Montreal Impact in Canada on Saturday afternoon. A.J. Soares scored the lone goal for the Revs, his second of the year.
Soares' goal came in the 88th minute. Ryan Guy won a free kick wide on the right side of Montreal's box, and Chris Tierney lined up to take it. His delivery found Soares on the near post, and the second-year defender headed on to the far post and in, totally against the run of play.
Head coach Jay Heaps rolled out a defensive-minded 4-2-3-1 and immediately had his team set about to stifle any attempts from the Impact to play through midfield. It worked in the first half, but had the double effect of making it difficult for the Revs to create anything, either, even on the counter. Montreal had the first chance of the match in the 18th minute when Marco di Vaio fired off a shot from outside the box that Bobby Shuttleworth handled well. Di Vaio went close again three minutes later off the volley, but the ball was deflected wide.
New England still had arguably the better half in the first stanza, putting the ball on goal at least three times, but in reality they looked no more potent in attack than their opponents. Fernando Cardenas, making his first start in a month, got into the box after some smooth buildup but his shot from a tight angle was saved by Troy Perkins. Jerry Bengtson put two shots on goal later in the half, the best of which being his 43rd minute chance after turning Alessandro Nesta, but he put his low shot right at Perkins.
The Revs conceded a lot of possession to the Impact, and their mandate to defend left Bengtson all alone up top, leading the line and doing a lot of thankless work attempting to hold the ball up with Nesta and Matteo Ferrari lurking around him. It made it difficult for Bengtson to impose himself on the game.
That became more apparent in the second half when the Impact turned on the heat and started getting real chances on the ball. Marco Di Vaio tore down the left flank in the 50th minute and played a low cross right at the end-line, somehow getting it past Shuttleworth so that it squirted along the goal line, but no one was able to follow up and the Revs cleared.
Davy Arnaud then forced Shuttleworth into a full-stretch save in the 52nd minute, while di Vaio continued to be a terror, creating chances in the 56th and 66th minutes that the Revs only barely repelled.
Montreal brought on Justin Mapp in the 71st minute, and the longtime MLS vet immediately set to work. His darting runs on the left had Ryan Guy and substitute Kelyn Rowe bamboozled in defense, creating three clear chances in three minutes either through his crossing or his blistering shots.
As the end of the match slowly drew nearer, the Revs appeared to continue to drop into a shell, letting Mapp and di Vaio essentially have their way with the ball and pepper Shuttleworth with shots. When Bengtson was brought off for Dimitry Imbongo, a toothless attack started to look positively jawless.
Then, Soares' unlikely goal turned the match on its head, and the Revs were able to ride out a in that few would say they deserved. With the 2012 season in the books, the New England coaching and technical staff has to take a long, hard look at why they started so brightly and then faded so fast, while Heaps will continue to put his mark on the team.