FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- For the second time in as many games, the New England Revolution found an early lead. But unlike their last match against the Los Angeles Galaxy, it steered them to their first win of the season.
After Zack Schilawski and Shalrie Joseph scored the first two goals of the match in the 8th and 17th minutes respectively, it was clear to manager Steve Nicol that the two-goal lead led his squad to play with confidence and composure.
“It was huge,” said Nicol of the early cushion. “You start the game level and you want to get ahead and have the initiative.”
There was little doubt that the Revolution was ready to take the initiative in the opening minutes.
With Nicol utilizing the same 4-5-1 formation that secured a third minute goal last Sunday in Los Angeles, the club threatened often in the opening minutes with good passing and probing runs inside the attack third.
It didn’t take long to convert that attacking momentum into a goal. From a long ball deep in the midfield, Joseph dropped a perfect pass ahead to Schilawski, who’s initial shot was blocked by D.C. keeper Pat Onstad. But, Schilawski took a hold of the rebound banged it into the back of the net for the 1-0 lead.
“I just tried to put a quick shot on goal as quick as possible,” said Schilawski. “Luckily, the ball popped back to me and I got a second chance at it.”
Joseph admitted that finding the lead so soon was instant validation of the club’s intentions going into the match.
“The first one was huge,” said Joseph. “We were trying to be aggressive and try to push the tempo early.”
Even after securing the opening goal, the team continued to push the attacking tempo as the game unfolded.
In the 17th minute, Revolution midfielder Pat Phelan broke into the box but was violently kicked down by D.C. defender Kurt Morsink. Referee Baldomero Toledo immediately pointed to the spot and moments later, Joseph put the penalty kick through for the two-goal cushion.
“It allowed us to settle down a little bit,” said Joseph of his goal. “It (also) allowed us to play a little bit better.”
Securing an early lead can sometimes become a double-edged sword. Naturally, a team holding the lead often plays with greater composure with the ball at their feet.
But, there are also times when a team allows a false sense of security to creep into their psyches. And it was something this team was well aware of in the locker room during halftime.
“At halftime, everyone was saying ‘Don’t relax too much’ because they’re going to come at us even harder (in the second half),” said Revolution defender Didier Domi. “It’s all mental.”
If keeping themselves mentally focused was the key to keeping the lead, it appeared that New England had lost some of their psychological edge by the 60th minute. With D.C. launching a string of ambitious attacks shortly after the hour, the Revolution had suddenly found themselves the hunted, rather than the hunter.
“It’s human nature,” said Nicol. “You’ve got something and you don’t want to lose it and sometimes you tend to back off.”
New England appeared to recover around the 70th minute by limited D.C.’s chances and resuming their early-match form. With Schilawski searching for another goal, it appeared that the home club was ready make it a three-goal game.
But, in the final moments, Toledo awarded a penalty kick to D.C. in the 89th minute, much to the dismay of many Revolution players. After the box was cleared, Charlie Davies cut the lead in half with a confident strike in stoppage time.
However, it was too little, too late for the guests. Minutes after Davies’ goal, Toledo blew the final whistle, as the Revolution’s early goals held to give them the victory.
“We’re so young and so eager to prove ourselves,” said Joseph. “Once we get that first one, it allows us to settle down and be confident.”
Brian O'Connell is covering the Revolution for ESPNBoston.com. He is the co-founder of New England Soccer Today (www.nesoccertoday.com), which covers professional soccer within New England. He can be reached at BOConnell21@aol.com