By IAN HOLLIDAY
Benny Feilhaber got the start and most of the headlines this week, but it was the New England Revolution's other recent signing that made the difference at Gillette Stadium Saturday night.
Danish striker Rajko Lekic headed home the first goal of his MLS career in the 83rd minute to give the Revs a 3-2 win over Sporting Kansas City, their first since the second week of the season. The win improves the Revolution to 2-2-3 (9 points) on the season, while Sporting falls to 1-3-1 (4 points).
Sporting finished the match with 10 men after defender Aurelien Collin was sent off for punching Feilhaber during a skirmish in the Revs' penalty area in the 76th minute. The replay showed Birahim Diop is the player to make contact with Feilhaber, not Collin, after Feilhaber initially instigated the situation.
After the match, Sporting head coach Peter Vermes said he hadn't seen the incident, but he did see a change in his team's performance after the sending off.
"That's kind of been our story this whole season," Vermes said. "With 11 men on the field, we have good results. With 10 men on the field, we don't."
Before Lekic's winner, the clubs had traded goals in rapid succession on either side of halftime. After Kei Kamara had put the visitors ahead from the penalty spot in the 69th minute, Shalrie Joseph headed home the equalizer for the Revs off of a Kenny Mansally free kick in the 72nd.
Joseph started the match as a second striker, playing just behind Lekic for most of the game, rather than in his usual spot in central midfield. The change seemed to give New England an attacking flair it has lacked so far this season, but it left the club's midfield without its steadiest presence. The Revs midfield and backline turned the ball over several times in the first half, leading to a number of quality chances for Sporting.
Revolution head coach Steve Nicol said the change was intended to help his side maintain possession, but it didn't quite function the way he had intended. The Revs were outshot 12 to five in the first half.
"We wanted to put pressure on Kansas," Nicol said. "We wanted to get the ball wide and get it in the box and push them back. And we felt if we could do that then we could start passing the ball. It didn't quite work that way, but that was the plan."
Though he didn't find the back of the net, Feilhaber was a key cog in the Revs attack from the start, assisting on the opening goal in the 12th minute. The midweek signing collected a poor cross from SKC defender Michael Harrington just inside the 18-yard box and laid the ball off to Marko Perovic. The Serbian struck a looping first-time shot past Sporting goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen for his first goal of the season.
Before the match, Nicol had said Feilhaber would play, but didn't indicate whether he would start or not. The midfielder ended up playing the full 90 minutes, a feat Nicol attributed to his experience.
"His fitness wasn't really a concern it was just his sharpness since he hadn't really trained all week," Nicol said. "He's smart, he's experienced, and he saves his legs by making the ball do all the work. It was obvious he was cruising, and there was no way he was coming off."
The visitors tied the match at 1 in the 14th minute when Teal Bunbury took down a long goal kick from 'keeper Jimmy Nielsen and laid off to Kei Kamara. Revs defender Didier Domi was slow to close down the space, and Kamara took advantage, lacing a low, hard shot from roughly 20 yards out that beat Matt Reis to the near post.
Sporting's best chance to equalize the final result came in the 90th minute, when defender Roger Espinoza drove a low shot through traffic that Reis spilled at the six-yard box. The keeper was fortunate to recover before Shavar Thomas could pounce on the rebound.
Both clubs will play their next matches on the road on Saturday. The Revs travel to the Home Depot Center to face Chivas USA, while Sporting KC will visit the New York Red Bulls.