New England Revolution head coach Jay Heaps liked how his team performed in the opening stages of its 2-0 victory in Houston on Saturday night, but he really appreciated how well his side managed to cope with the unexpected circumstances that cropped up during a peculiar first half.
Heaps made one enforced change – Juan Agudelo inserted for his Revolution debut in place of the injured Ryan Guy (left calf) – and watched Dimitry Imbongo march off five minutes before halftime after a scuffle with Houston defender Bobby Boswell.
The uncertainty could have diverted the Revs from their anticipated game plan for the evening, but they instead adjusted to the peculiar situation at hand appropriately and then exploited the additional space afforded by the ejections of Boswell and Imbongo in the second half.
“We just had to shift,” Heaps told reporters. “When Demi goes out, Juan Agudelo, he's such a versatile player, we were able to shift him up top. We were able to move Juan Toja out wide. For us, we didn't have to maneuver as much as they did by taking Ricardo Clark out of midfield. We were a little bit more balanced in what we were able to do without changing too much of our game plan.”
Clark's removal from the center of the park freed up additional operating room for the likes of Lee Nguyen and Clyde Simms, and placed the Dynamo in the uncomfortable position of trying to repel the Revs' work on the break with just one regular center back on the field.
New England exploited the Dynamo's defensive concerns with neat and tidy work in the final third. Diego Fagundez worked a clever one-two with Simms (granted more room to push forward under the revamped operating principles) for the opener six minutes after the break. Nguyen threatened with two shots from distance – again, in space created by the dismissal – before starting the move that led to Clark's own goal to settle the match in the final 10 minutes.
By sticking to its preferred plan from the outset and taking advantage of the extra pockets of space, the Revs avoided conceding yet another late goal and secured their first win in four attempts.
“We scored the second goal, that always helps,” Heaps said. “[Revolution goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth] had to make a couple of saves. You have to credit Houston. They never give up. In this place, they're very hard to beat. We had to answer defensively on a couple of plays, but players stepped up and did a nice job.”