Texas two-step for Revolution
Familiar pattern leads them back to big dance
WASHINGTON -- The Revolution gave a déjà vu performance yesterday, protecting a one-goal lead for 86 minutes in defeating D.C. United, 1-0, in Major League Soccer's Eastern Conference championship game. But the Revolution are hoping to change their fortune when they return to Frisco, Texas, for Sunday's MLS Cup against Houston.
A year ago, the Revolution scored a fourth-minute goal and held off the Chicago Fire in the conference final, then lost to Los Angeles in the MLS Cup. This time, Taylor Twellman slammed in an impressive half volley from 14 yards out and the Revolution frustrated a fluent, incessant attack from United in winning the conference title for the third time in five successive appearances.
"We have been playing great and we are where we wanted to be," Revolution midfielder Shalrie Joseph said. "We feel good and we have confidence after five years in a row. We know how great this team is, but we don't know how much longer we are going to be together so we have a sense of desperation."
The Revolution also had to adjust tactically after D.C. produced several chances to tie the score early in the game. The Revolution started with James Riley in central defense in a 4-4-2 alignment, but midway through the first half returned to their usual 3-5-2.
"Obviously, after we scored a goal they were going to come forward and put us under pressure," Revolution coach Steve Nicol said. "But I don't remember a time when we thought they should have scored."
D.C. had the league's best regular-season record (15-7-10) but faded late in the season and struggled to eliminate New York in the first round of the playoffs. The Revolution closed the regular season with a seven-game (5-0-2) unbeaten streak and have maintained momentum in the playoffs. Though the Revolution were missing Steve Ralston (calf) and lost Daniel Hernandez (heel) in the first half, they appear to be near full speed.
"After the All-Star break we faltered a little bit, we had guys coming and going, injuries," said goalkeeper Matt Reis, who made several key plays against D.C. threats. "But it really doesn't matter what you do during the regular season, it's what you do in the playoffs. We bent, but we didn't break. We have wanted all year to get back into the final and here we are. But it's not over until the game is over next week."
Twellman completed his second-lowest scoring season (11 goals) in five Revolution seasons but has converted twice in the playoffs. Twellman's goal yesterday was among the most impressive of his 81 goals in regular-season and playoff matches.
The Revolution went on the offensive early, as they did in the two-game playoff series with Chicago.
Jay Heaps, who started and finished the game at right back, started the scoring sequence, playing the ball to Pat Noonan on the right. Noonan, marked by Bobby Boswell and Facundo Erpen, angled a cross toward the top of the penalty area, Twellman volleying on the bounce into the upper right corner of the net.
But it soon became apparent the lead would be difficult to protect.
D.C. started forcing the action, sending defenders into attack and controlling the midfield. United earned five corner kicks in a nine-minute span and had shots by Freddy Adu saved (10th) and Jaime Moreno go wide (16th). After the fifth corner, Riley switched to the right wing, the Revolution abandoning the 4-4-2 setup.
The switch stemmed United's pressure and the Revolution began threatening. Joe Franchino slid a shot wide (31st) and Twellman blooped a shot high (32d) off a Riley cross while wide open at the far post.
D.C. faded as the first half continued, but the individual brilliance of Moreno and Christian Gomez kept United dangerous. Gomez's free kick hit the Revolution wall (44th) after Moreno had been fouled by Joseph on the edge of the penalty area and Jeff Larentowicz then replaced Hernandez.
Both teams threatened from long distance early in the second half, an Adu shot saved (48th) and Riley drive wide (50th). Michael Parkhurst's first foul of the playoffs led to a D.C. free kick from 40 yards, starting a play that led to a through ball to Gomez, whose long touch was grabbed by Reis in the 25d minute.
By then, the Revolution were strictly in counterattack mode. Andy Dorman went down in the penalty area (56th), referee Kevin Stott allowing play to continue, and Twellman scuffing a shot wide (57th) on a feed from Noonan. The Revolution advanced on the left wing, Franchino earning a corner (67th) but then being replaced by Khano Smith. Four minutes later, Smith's one-timer with the outside of his left foot sailed just over the bar on a Noonan layoff.
As the match opened up, Joseph beat two defenders and crossed, Boswell gaining control after Stott ruled an inadvertent handball. United turned the play into a quick counter, Ben Olsen's flicked-on header from a Gomez pass saved by Reis . Gomez was replaced by Clyde Simms after going for a tackle in the 81st minute and, though that seemed to signal the end for United, it continued to pressure. Avery John headed out a Matias Donnet cross and cleared after a Reis save in the final minutes, then Olsen slid a shot wide in the third and final minute of injury time.
"It is still our ultimate goal to win the championship," Franchino said. "We are healthy this year and you could see it late in this game. We need the early goal from Taylor because of the way [D.C.] moves the ball and opens you up. We defended with heart and passion and worked hard for the guy next to us and just got the job done."
Frank Dell'Apa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.