By CARL SETTERLUND
FOXBORO, Mass. – It sure looks like Juan Agudelo is ready for Stoke City. The New England Revolution’s forward made his return from a sprained right knee at home Saturday against the Chicago Fire and the 20-year-old put on for display the scoring flair that must have piqued the English Premiership side’s interest.
Agudelo put the struggling Revs ahead in the 53rd minute with a prodigious side-footed flick sure to put him in the running for MLS Goal of the Week, while a late poacher’s strike from Kelyn Rowe boosted host New England to a 2-0 victory.
The victory pushed the Revs (9-9-6, 33 points) past Chicago (9-10-4, 31 points) in the standings as they took over sixth place in the Eastern Conference.
“We needed to rebound,” Revolution coach Jay Heaps said. “I thought tonight after another loss, you really start asking a lot of guys, and tonight the energy was there.”
Agudelo – reported by SBI on August 6 to have signed a pre-contract binding him to play for Stoke at the conclusion of the MLS season – ran onto a ball over the top of Chicago’s from Chris Tierney and struck it with a bit of majesty off the first bounce, popping a back-heel flick over fast-closing keeper Sean Johnson.
“The ball slowed down a little bit and it was just instinct,” Agudelo said.
With Johnson off his line, Fire center back Bakary Soumare went all out for a bicycle clearance, but the linesman deemed the ball to have passed the goal line.
“Juan has a really good presence up there,” Heaps said. “He’s not afraid to receive it and when he receives it, he’s actually always dangerous when he holds it. It’s not just holding it to play it; it’s holding it to get people in and then giving it up. So for me, he gives players like Lee (Nguyen) and Kelyn a little bit more time to find the gaps, and Diego (Fagundez) as well. When you have someone who can do that, it really opens up what we’re trying to do.”
Agudelo’s memorable tally snapped a 260-minute goal drought for the Revolution, who had been shut out its previous two matches, both losses.
Chicago had been unbeaten in its past four games, winning six of the last nine to get back into playoff contention. The loss came despite six saves from Johnson.
“This was a big game,” Fire captain Jeff Larentowicz said. “We were sitting right on top of the Revs before the game and now they leapfrog over us, so we’re hoping to continue to push to get into that playoff spot. We’re getting to a point in the year where they are running out of games. So whether it’s at home or on the road, we want to get points and tonight we let this one slip.”
In the other goal, 38-year-old Matt Reis made his first start since March 23, giving incumbent Bobby Shuttleworth a spell after coach Jay Heaps said he impressed in training. Reis needed just three saves, but claimed his third shutout in as many starts this season. Incidentally, he also shut out the Fire on March 9.
Major League Soccer scoring leader Mike Magee (14 goals) nearly broke through for Chicago in the 18th minute on a pair of tries at the right edge of the eight-yard box. Magee redirected Juan Luis Anangono’s pass off the near post with a one-touch shot and then sent his off-balance second try straight into the belly of Reis. Magee had scored in eight of 10 matches before missing last weekend’s win over Montreal with a right calf strain.
In the 27th minute, Magee got in close for another try, but the Chicago offense went without a shot over the next hour of play as the Revs had the run of play.
Eleven minutes after Agudelo left to an ovation in the 68th minute, new Revs loan signing Charlie Davies came on for Chad Barrett, making his first MLS appearance since an attempt to rehab his career with D.C. United in 2011.
Davies, a Manchester, N.H., native who dazzled at nearby Boston College, is attempting another revival after falling out of favor at Danish side Randers FC. Once a rising star for the U.S. Men’s National Team, Davies has been unable to regain his old form since a serious car accident sidetracked his career in 2009.
“I’m so happy to be part of this team and this organization that I’ve grown up watching and it’s an exciting time,” Davis said. “It’s 10 games left now and the playoffs are on the horizon if we continue to play like we did today.”
New England pocketed its second goal in the first minute of second-half stoppage time as Rowe redeemed himself after missing an 89th-minute sitter. The ball came his way again as Johnson parried away a Saer Sene volley and this time Rowe showed composure on the ball, finishing it to seal the final score.
“You saw it, we lost,” Johnson said afterward. “What more do you want me to say?”
Tempers flared late as Fire coach Frank Klopas was ejected for dissent after defender Franco Paladini raked Rowe across the face for a foul in the 82nd minute.
With Chicago trailing late, Bakary Soumaré engaged in a verbal exchange with a Revs trainer, which was reported as Evan Allen, over the delay in play. Soumaré tried to reengage Allen following the final whistle, which led to his ejection, along with New England’s Sene. Referee Edvin Jurisevic listed “fighting” as the official cause for the two late red cards, but Soumaré later explained that Sene, a personal friend, had been intervening on his behalf to diffuse the situation.
Here are the match highlights: