By TYLER DAY
The New England Revolution were the only team in MLS to have last week off, and the wait to kick off the new season proved well worth it as they started 2013 off on a winning note.
New England’s Jerry Bengston broke a scoreless game in the 62nd minute with a header off a perfect Kelyn Rowe cross to lead the Revolution to a 1-0 victory over the Chicago Fire at Toyota Park on Saturday night.
The winning goal came courtesy of a beautiful passing combination between Juan Toja and Rowe, who came off the bench to deliver a perfectly-weighted pass to the far post, where Bengtson raced onto it for the winner.
“I thought we played well,” said Rowe. “We created chances for each other, especially in the second half. We defended well at the end and we didn’t give up a goal. It’s something that we strive for. This year we want to get as many points as we can.”
After the Fire’s opening week 4-0 disaster at Los Angeles, the club was hoping a return home could restart its campaign. Until Saturday, they had never lost to their rival in five previous home openers.
New England took control when Fire newcomer, and former Revolution midfielder, Jeff Larentowicz, fumbled a defensive clearance in his own box. The ball settled to Juan Toja, who touched the ball to Kelyn Rowe. He then calmly served the ball to Bengston who headed it into the back of the net to put the Revolution up 1-0.
It was a fairly even match between the two clubs. The Revs had nine shots compared to eight for Chicago, with the Fire controlling possession by a slim margin. The Fire had the better of the chances, including two in the first half that could have seized control of the game.
The New England defense, bolstered by 2013 MLS No. 1 overall draft pick Andrew Farrell and veteran goalkeeper Matt Reis, were able to keep a clean sheet.
“To play on the road and get three points is a big result for us,” said Reis. “It’s something to build on, it definitely wasn’t perfect, but it’s great to get that confidence in this group.”
Patrick Nyarko, playing his 150th game for the Fire, came free in the box in the 27’ and found Sherjill MacDonald in front of goal, but the Dutch striker stumbled over the finish and the ball rolled gently to Reis.
A few minutes later Dilly Duka again went close for the Fire, but Reis made a great save on a quality strike from distance to preserve the draw heading into half.
“He hit a knuckleball that was moving all over the place,” said Reis. “I knew they were going to get that one chance. I knew I needed to step up and make that save and keep us in the game at 0-0 and fortunately I was able to do it.”
The Fire were counting on MacDonald this season in what was already a rather timid attack, but after coming on as a late sub in the opener, he was ineffective again as a starter on Saturday. Maicon Santos replaced him to start the second half, but was unable to muster many chances himself.
Second-year New England head coach Jay Heaps made a key substitution in the 53’ when he brought on Kelyn Rowe for Donnie Smith. Rowe was instrumental on Bengston’s goal and helped the team control the game for most of the remaining time.
Commenting on Rowe’s play after the game, Heaps said, “He’s good like that. He can see the field, he knows where he is. We prayed to get the ball in the box because we know that Jerry likes to score goals like that. [Jerry] waits for balls like that, and he has the calmness to finish it.”
The pressure will now surely be on Chicago Fire coach Frank Klopas as his team drops to the bottom of the table, held without a goal on the season.
“We just have to put our chances away,’ said Klopas. “In the first half we had some good looks and we just have to be better in the final third.”
They travel to face Sporting Kansas City next week, while New England will also be on the road at Philadelphia.
“We did well this one,” said Farrell. “I think we’ve got to take it game by game. Next we go to Philly, it will be a tough environment, a tough team to play. I think when the team does well we get clean sheets and some wins, and then it’s all going well for me.”
Here are the match highlights: