The New England Revolution landed quite a sucker punch on D.C. United on Saturday night, snatching three points on enemy turf while also unsettling the delicate psyche of a winless team and its first-year coach with a 2-0 win of the smash-and-grab variety.
However, very little of what transpired at RFK Stadium was a surprise. Both sides knew how the other would approach the game and both knew what needed to be done to secure a victory.
United were given ample chances to impose themselves on an undermanned, defensive-minded Revs squad and flubbed their lines, while the visitors – guided by Kenny Mansally – seized their opportunities with cutthroat efficiency.
“We knew that they were going to come in and drop off and play low-pressure,” D.C. coach Curt Onalfo said. “I thought we moved the ball well, I thought we created chances. Unfortunately you’ve got to finish those chances, and we gave up a real unfortunate goal towards the end of the game, and I think that shell shocked us a little bit.”
“We had the better of the game and we walked away not winning. Sometimes the game is very cruel and tonight was a perfect example of that.”
Buoyed by a passionate opening-day crowd, United passed and probed with virtual impunity in the first half. But time and again their passing moves ground to a halt in and around the New England penalty area as Cory Gibbs, Emmanuel Osei and the rest of the Revs defense closed ranks and prevented the Black-and-Red from testing goalkeeper Preston Burpo with regularity.
After Chris Pontius missed two good chances in the first half, several set-piece opportunities went begging and with the home fans growing restive, United began to grow flustered.
“I think it was urgent in the first half,” D.C. midfielder Santino Quaranta said. “And you don’t get the goal and you can throw a lot of numbers forward, and you see what happens. When you lose your shape and become undisciplined it becomes a problem, and that’s what happened tonight.”
The United defense, composed and cohesive for most of the night, lost concentration just long enough to allow Chris Tierney’s deflected cross to reach Mansally deep in the box for the first goal. Less than two minutes later, a flash of individual brilliance from Mansally completed his brace and put the game on ice.
Onalfo’s New England counterpart Steve Nicol could hardly have scripted it any better. But for United, it’s back to the drawing board as they contemplate the ugly reality of an 0-2 start to the 2010 campaign with zero goals scored and six goals conceded.
“We’ve got to get better,” D.C. defender Carey Talley said. “I’m confident that we will, but I think that a lot of us need to step up and start pushing guys, start making them play in uncomfortable spots and uncomfortable situations, seeing what we’re made of.”