With a crowded fixture list, injuries and fatigue playing a role, the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup turned into an open door for several New England Revolution reserves on Wednesday night.
While the Revs eventually succumbed 3-2 after extra time to the visiting Chicago Fire, reserves such as Doug Warren, Luke Vercollone and Jeff Larentowicz acquired significant match experience that has eluded them during the league campaign.
Sunday morning reserve matches maintain a modicum of match fitness, but the presence of a strong Chicago lineup allowed the reserves to test their mettle against MLS starters and multiple international players.
Revolution head coach Steve Nicol noted that the transition was difficult for the reserves.
"It was not easy for the young guys," said Nicol. "They sit and watch on the sidelines and say, 'Yeah, I can do this.' Then they learn what it takes on the field."
Larentowicz, a halftime substitute for Shalrie Joseph, earned his most extended stint as a professional. He had appeared in one league match prior to his extended foray against the Fire.
"I've waited patiently, and the Open Cup was a good atmosphere to get a chance," said Larentowicz. "I'm hoping to play more in the future, but we'll see what happens."
The atmosphere of cozy Lusitano Stadium comforted the Brown product.
"The match was everything [I wanted]," said Larentowicz. "The atmosphere was great. Gillette takes you by surprise when you walk on the field, because the stadium is so big. I was a lot more at ease here. It felt more like a college stadium."
It was not all glory for Larentowicz. Andy Herron intercepted his soft header back towards Doug Warren for the decisive goal in the 110th minute.
"It was a hard-fought game," said Larentowicz. "It hurts to lose the game, especially on a mistake like that."
For Gilberto Flores, the match represented another step in his comeback. A starter last season with the Metrostars, Flores has struggled to recover from a left ankle injury that forced his release from the club.
Deployed in his accustomed defensive midfield role, Flores looked unimpaired throughout his 120 minutes on the pitch.
"I was happy to get the chance to get on the field," said Flores. "I got a little tired at the end. I was really excited to be back."
Flores admits that the contest was a just a step towards recapturing the form that won him plaudits last season.
"I don't feel 100 percent yet, but I think my willingness to be out here [makes up for that]," said Flores.
Kyle McCarthy is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.