The circumstances didn't favor the New England Revolution as they traveled to Columbus for Saturday night's 3-2 loss to the Crew.
They traveled just 16 healthy players. They lost two starters and a regular substitute to injuries and suspension during their two-day layoff between games. They shunted players into different spots to compose their starting XI. To cap it all off, they entered the match on a four-match winless streak and without a good performance in weeks.
In the face of all of that adversity, the Revs responded with their most complete performance of the season. It took a stoppage time goal from the Crew's Robbie Rogers to send them home without any points.
“To come here and play like that and to lose it like that, it's kind of heart breaking,” Revolution midfielder Khano Smith said.
Rogers' late goal snuffed out the Revolution's hopes for a draw, one they probably deserved on the balance of play.
The first two goals of Zak Boggs' MLS career – including a calm finish of a tidy buildup involving Kheli Dube and Pat Phelan after 40 minutes – highlighted a performance that included more possession and more movement than New England had cobbled together for quite some time.
“He was fantastic,” Revolution coach Steve Nicol said of Boggs. “His second goal was a finish that anybody could be proud of. The first one, he got a bit lucky. The second one, it was a great move and a great goal. Then he nearly gets his hat trick at the end with a great shot that just drifted wide. He's had a good performance tonight. If he continues to put in shifts like that, then he'll be fantastic for us.”
While the positives in Boggs' performance and in the Revs' revived play were there for all to see, the tendency to concede soft goals once again reared its head and cost the side dearly.
A poor clearing header from Revs defender Cory Gibbs set up Eddie Gaven for the Crew's opener, while a Gibbs own goal arrived after the Crew found it far too easy to carve open the Revs down the left wing. To provide the final blow, Preston Burpo – the Revs' savior on several occasions during the second half – scuffed a goal kick to set up Rogers' winner.
“We got punished for three mistakes,” Nicol said. “We end up coming away with nothing. I think from start to finish we played solid, we played organized - we tried to play where it was right. We made some decent decisions at times, but the bottom line is we end up with zero.”
On this night and with a lineup stripped of Kevin Alston (hamstring), Edgaras Jankauskas (hamstring) and Marko Perovic (suspension) after Wednesday's 4-0 defeat to Chivas USA, the positives outweighed those negatives. As the Revs continue onwards to play New York in a U.S. Open Cup play-in game at Red Bull Arena on Wednesday and return home to face San Jose next Saturday, they need to shake off the disappointment and focus on their improved performance, according to Phelan.
“This is a tough place to play,” Phelan said. “They're the Supporters' Shield champions. It's a huge game for us. We can't hang our heads. We don't have time. We have a game on Wednesday and another game on Saturday. This whole month, there's no time to put our heads down, so we'll take a lot from it.”