The New England Revolution went into Sunday night's home match with the New York Red Bulls badly needing three points in their bid to vault up the Eastern Conference standings, and they did not disappoint. Lee Nguyen and debutante Jerry Bengtson supplied the goals as the Revs downed the Red Bulls 2-0.
While two goals is certainly something to be proud of, the match featured a period of first-half dominance from the Revolution that suggested the score should have been much more lopsided. The Revs squandered a handful of golden chances and were lucky that their profligate finishing didn't punish them in the end.
"I thought the game should have been over before the half," said Jay Heaps. "But credit New York for fighting, and it was nice to get the second goal to be able to get the win."
Nguyen's third goal of the season put the Revs ahead in the 24th minute, a rasping strike from distance after Chris Tierney provided the set-up pass. It was the Revs' second goal, however, that will dominate the headlines, as debutante Jerry Bengtson, New England's third-ever Designated Player, cleaned up a Saer Sene rebound to earn his first MLS goal.
"It was a beautiful play by [Saer Sene]," Bengtson said through team translator Jasir Charis. "[Sene] was very unlucky, he took a shot, the keeper made a save. I was focused enough to lead myself to the goal. You [must] never lose focus of following the play."
Bengtson put in a solid thirty-minute shift for the Revolution, flashing his speed, strength, and touch on a couple of occasions before the goal. There weren't too many signs of rust, something that could be expected as Bengtson has been training intensively ahead of Honduras' Olympic campaign. The goal, according to Heaps, was something Revolution fans can expect from his new striker going forward.
"I think you're going to see more goals like he scored," said Heaps. "Where it's a poacher's goal, he's offside on the first part of the build-up play and then he comes back onside and he fights off the goalkeeper and scores. Those are his kind of goals and we need someone who puts those away."
Bengtson's debut may have slightly overshadowed the defensive performance by the home side in this match, but the performance of the back line and second-string goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth cannot be understated. After two straight weeks where easily-preventable defensive miscues cost the Revolution points, getting the team's fourth shutout of the season was of paramount importance.
"I can't say enough about the guys and what they did tonight," said Shuttleworth. "They didn't really have that many chances. We really kept everything in front of us and stayed sharp."
Statistically, this was a match the Revs really should not have dominated. They finished the match with 37.7% of the possession, including a 37.4% mark in the first half when they were truly bossing the play. 73.3% passing accuracy is a decent mark, but New York completed 81.7% of their passes.
The story is really told in the shots and crosses categories, where New York failed to register a single attempt at goal in the first half. Though they finished with 12, only 3 were on target, compared to the Revs' 15 attempts with 9 on target. New York dominated in open play crosses, putting in 21 on the whole (10 in the first half), but created almost no real chances. This speaks to the ability of the New England defense to deal with the Red Bulls' strikers, but also gives some insight into why Jay Heaps elected to go with Shuttleworth over Matt Reis.
"[Bobby] communicated, and he did well on crosses," said Heaps. "We also wanted to shore up a little bit on air balls. Bobby has a commanding presence in the air."
The Revolution are back in action next week at home against Toronto in a match that will be Paul Mariner's first return to Gillette Stadium in a coaching capacity. With Sunday night's win, New England is up to a 6-7-4 record, surpassing 2011's full-season win total at the midway mark of the 2012 season.