Photo by ISIPhotos.com
By KEVIN KOCZWARA
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – D.C. United might be in the midst of its worst winless streak in franchise history, but the New England Revolution coach Jay Heaps didn’t take it for granted heading into Saturday night’s game at Gillette Stadium.
While the two teams are on different paths this season — New England came into the game winners of three in a row and unbeaten in four games — it didn’t show on the field as they battled to a scoreless draw in a game where neither team gave an inch or allowed the other to have a clear chance at goal.
“I think we all know D.C. is a tough team and I think tonight they really showed some real grit,” Revolution coach Jay Heaps said after the game. “(D.C.) didn’t give us much at all. We tried to take a little bit, but Bill Hamid made a good couple saves. But in the end we’re not thrilled but at the same time we were up against a hell of a team tonight.”
New England came into the game as the stingiest defense in Major League Soccer and goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth and his defense continued to show its one of the toughest in the league to breakdown against D.C., which, albeit, is the worst in MLS.
United mustered 12 shots, but only forced Shuttleworth to make one save. The goalkeeper gave a lot of the credit for the team’s recent defensive success to the work it does every week in training and the depth the team has along its back line.
“Jay (Heaps) defines everybody’s role and everybody knows what they need to do in the game,” Shuttleworth said. “We have a a lot of good players across the back line that can step in, so I think it has a lot to do with the depth, the organization and the communication.”
D.C. had the first opportunity to open the scoring after a miscue from Revs defender Jose Goncalves, something that hasn’t happened often this season. Goncalves was stripped of possession in his own half by United midfielder Nick DeLeon, but, the United midfielder pulled his shot across goal and out of play.
The Revolution’s best scoring opportunity in the first half came after Juan Agudelo was able to weave in the D.C. penalty area and poke a pass to Juan Toja just inside the 18-yard-box in the 31st minute. Toja hit the ball first time with his left foot, but Hamid was able to reach the strike and punch it over the net for a corner.
The Revs had two of its best chances on the night around the 66th minute after Diego Fagundez pounced on a loose ball in the midfield. The New England forward ran at the heart of the United defense and took on a shot from just outside, but it was box deflected over the D.C. goal. On the ensuing corner kick, New England took it short and defender Chris Tierney found space inside the box and struck the post with a right-footed shot.
New England and D.C. both had chances in stoppage time to steal the game but were unable to convert.
Revolution midfielder and second half substitute Kelyn Rowe found space in the United penalty area after New England strung together some passes and found space on the goth side of the D.C. defense, but the midfielder hit his shot directly at Bill Hamid, who punched the chance away.
D.C. then had a chance to grab a late goal after New England rookie defender Andrew Farrell played the ball out for a corner. United midfielder Perry Kitchen rose above the Revs’ defense for a free header and pushed the chance just past Bobby Shuttleworth’s post.
In recent weeks, New England would have finished its chances and United would have given up a goal.
But United stayed compacted and forced the Revolution into tight spaces, not giving up too much space in behind the defense for one of the Revolution midfielders to play a through ball or run into.
Even when the Revs started to press and probe, D.C. didn’t break and was able to hold onto its third clean sheet of the season, which is something Olsen hopes will be a step in the right direction for a team that has fallen off in form dramatically from last year.
“When you’re in this position, you’re looking for baby steps and this is, again, something that maybe we can build off of,” Olsen said.
Hamid echoed Olsen’s feelings.
“I think it was a hard fought point,” said Hamid after the game. “The unit defensively did extremely well with their off the ball runners, one-twos and dealing with crosses.
“As a group it was a great defensive performance and we got some chances on the offensive end, so this is a positive game for us as a team moving forward,” Hamid continued.
Next up for D.C. is a home game against Philadelphia in the U.S. Open Cup on June 12th. United then welcomes Toronto to RFK Stadium three days later in a battle of the bottom two teams in the Eastern conference.
For New England, this is a missed opportunity. A win over D.C. would have put them level on points with Philadelphia for the final playoff spot in the East with a game in hand. It would have also kept the team’s winning streak alive heading into a tough two game stretch that starts with home game at Harvard Stadium against the New York Red Bulls in the Open Cup on the 12th, and is followed by a road game three days later in Vancouver.
Here are the match highlights: