By KEVIN KOCZWARA
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Controversy looks like its following the New England Revolution lately. But, unlike last week in Chicago, the Revs received the benefit of doubt and reaped the rewards of the controversy in their 2-1 win over D.C. United. The win pushed New England into fifth in the Eastern Conference with five games left, and if they can stay there they will make the playoffs for the first time since 2009.
D.C. took the lead in the 11th minute thanks to an own goal by Revolution midfielder Scott Caldwell. New England clawed themselves back in the second half, though, and took the lead with goals from Diego Fagundez and Lee Nguyen, which were both goals shrouded in doubt as Fagundez appeared to be offside and the penalty awarded to Nguyen, who had another controversial penalty call saved earlier in the second half, seemed to be a harsh decision.
It was the first time New England had come back in a game at home when allowing the first goal this season; they were previously 0-4-0 at home when allowing the first goal.
D.C. owned the early stages of the game and was rewarded for its high-pressure and hard work when Luis Silva drifted out-wide and tried to play a cross into the Revolution penalty area. Revs goalkeeper Matt Reis looked to have the cross covered, but a lunging Caldwell got a foot on the cross and put the ball into the empty net.
New England struggled to get into any attacking rhythm before or after the goal, but D.C. was unable to create any meaningful chances for the rest of the half as New England’s defense regrouped.
The Revolution’s first chance to level the score came in the 24th minute when Dimitry Imbongo found space behind the D.C. defense and Andrew Farrell played a perfect ball over the top. Imbongo still had plenty to do and had to battle with Dejan Jakovic and Ethan White to get off a shot, which he pulled wide.
New England’s pressure continued and two minutes after getting their first opportunity the Revolution again threatened the D.C. goal. Nguyen worked and danced in the United penalty area, finding a gap and putting a shot across goal that Saer Sene almost latched on to, but the chance just missed his foot and missed the back post.
New England came out in the second half and continued to press D.C. and create chances. D.C. struggled to cope with the waves of New England attacks, and it wore on them, which forced errors and put extra pressure on the team, making it harder to get any momentum and break New England down.
“I thought, in the first half, we had a little bit of momentum, created some opportunities, but in the second half they threw a lot of numbers at us,” D.C. midfielder Chris Pontius said after the game. “When we did win the ball, we weren’t clean enough with it, coming out of it. Then you get heavy legs and make it even harder on yourself. So we just weren’t able to do the simple things in the game to really pressure for ourselves.”
Chris Tierney missed an empty net in the 54th minute. Imbongo located the defender at the back-post with a low-cross that fizzed across the penalty area, but the Revolution defender ballooned the shot over the net.
One minute later New England got the break they were looking for thanks to a debatable decision by referee Carlos Rivera.
Jakovic looked to get a clean, hard tackle in on Nguyen and disposes the Revolution midfielder, but Rivera blew the whistle and pointed to the spot, awarding a penalty to New England. Nguyen stepped up to the spot to take the penalty but United goalkeeper Bill Hamid read the shot and saved it easily.
“(Hamid) read it early. Right in my mind, into my half swing, I knew, I was like ‘crap.’ I wanted to but I couldn’t change it in time,” Nguyen said after the game. “Credit to him, he made a great first save.”
New England didn’t slow down after the penalty save, though. The Revs kept fighting and pressing D.C. and in the 59th minute found the breakthrough they needed thanks to a Sene through-ball and and good finish from the team’s leading goal scorer Diego Fagundez to level the score. Again, though, there were complaints that the referee and his assistant missed a call as Fagundez appeared to be offside when Sene played the ball to him. Fagundez even admitted after the game that it was a close call whether he was onside before scoring.
“To tell you the truth, I was a little surprised because after I scored the first thing I did was look at the ref because it was so close,” Fagundez said after the game. “I’d have to see it again to see if it was or it wasn’t (offside).”
Nguyen almost redeemed his penalty miss in the 68th minute when he hit the crossbar with a blistering shot from 26 yards out. The Revs midfielder had a second opportunity off the rebound with another long-distance shot that Hamid was able to get a touch on and push wide of the goal.
D.C. had a chance in the 81st minute to steal three points against the run of play. Second half substitute Conor Doyle was able to find space in the New England penalty area on a counter-attack and appeared to score a game-winner after chipping Reis, but the Revolution goalkeeper scrambled and got to the ball before it bounced over the goal line.
Nguyen then put the game out of reach for D.C. in the 83rd minute after getting fouled again in the box and getting his second chance at a penalty. This time the Revolution midfielder fooled Hamid with some help deciding where to go with the penalty from Tierney.
“Well, I knew it was a mind game because he read the first one. I was thinking about going down the middle after that. And it was just great to have the confidence from my teammates and the coaching staff,” Nguyen said. “Chris (Tierney) was also confronting them and he was like, ‘Dude, think about going down the middle.’ So he had a little confidence in me going down the middle and after that, that was all I needed.”
Nguyen’s penalty, his third goal of this of the season, sealed the win for New England, which, combined with a Columbus Crew victory of the Chicago Fire, pushed New England back into the fifth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
The loss for D.C. was another tough one to swallow. United has scored just 19 goals this season and allowed 48, while collecting a measly 15 points in 29 games, which is the worst in Major League Soccer.
Here are the highlights: