The Revolution, fresh off of their midweek match-up against the Union that saw the team come away with a point, welcomed the Houston Dynamo to Gillette Stadium Saturday night. The Dynamo themselves had been traveling from their own midweek game against the San Jose Earthquakes, which they had lost 2-0. With Wilmer Cabrera’s squad clinging to the final playoff spot in the West, and only a point ahead of Real Salt Lake, winning this match was crucial for the Dynamo. The Revs, however, were looking to extend their unbeaten run in league play to 6 matches, a mark they haven’t been able to hit in any of their last three seasons.
Head Coach Bruce Arena made six changes to his lineup prior to this game, starting Antonio Delamea in the backline and giving Jalil Anibaba a rest, and letting Academy graduate Justin Rennicks start for the first time ever in his MLS career. Off the field, it seems like the fans had made some changes as well recently, as the atmosphere was electric inside the walls of 1 Patriot Place, with heaps of newfound optimism being projected onto the pitch from the Foxboro faithful.
In honor of Pride Month, the Midnight Riders, Rebellion, and Army worked together to create a wonderful tifo depicting the tagline, “All Are Welcome”, while the teams donned jerseys with rainbow-colored numbers and names. With the festivities underway, the match was off, and right off the bat, both teams began trading blows. The Revs were given the first chance of the game when an errant ball found Diego Fagundez’s foot in the box, as he saw his shot glide past the far post and out of play, opening the floodgates for 20 more Revolution shots for the remainder of the match.
Matt Turner came up big early on, as he was able to start again following his 2 match suspension for obliterating D.C. United’s Wayne Rooney, stonewalling Romell Quioto’s shot from long range, diving to his left and keeping the score level just 15 minutes in. Justin Rennicks looked to get in on the action shortly thereafter, flicking his shot just over the Dynamo net in close range. Carles Gil and J.F. Caicedo have both been growing extremely comfortable with each other, and their chemistry nearly paid off very early on. After Gil won a ball back from a Justin Rennicks tackle, he was able to send the pass out wide to an open Diego Fagundez, before the Uruguayan slid the ball inside to JFC, before his shot was barely saved by Houston’s Joe Willis.
In the 22nd minute, DeJuan Jones’ missed clearance attempt left Marlon Hairston completely uncovered at the back post, though Matt Turner came up huge, stopping not one, but two point-blank shots within his own 18’. Just a minute later Turner yet again was at the center of a great save, when Romell Quioto’s second shot of the game bent towards the top corner before the Revs keeper leaped towards the crossbar and batted the Honduran’s shot out of play. The Revs’ luck seemed to run out off the ensuing corner kick, however, when Darwin Ceren’s shot deflected off of Andrew Farrell and caught Turner’s chest, before ricocheting into the net and putting the Dynamo up 1-0 with 20 minutes to go in the first half.
Heading into halftime, Manager Bruce Arena understood that Houston deserved their lead, and in order for the Revs to win they’d need to clean up their play in the midfield, so the boys looked to do just that early on. Earning a corner kick in the 51st minute, Diego Fagundez’s cross met Toni Delamea’s head, before skipping into the side netting to knot the score up at 1 with 40 minutes still to play, and a lot at stake. The assist is a welcome sign for Fagundez, as plans with the roster this season have seen the former Revolution wonderkid left out of the gameday XI and sometimes even the 18 as a whole, and is hopefully an indication that the second half of the year will pan out much more nicely for the midfielder.
With the goal, the Revs made a tactical adjustment, as it seemed the goal now was to win this match, a mentality the team had looked as if they’d lost in recent years, with Justin Rennicks exiting to make way for Cristian Penilla. A defensive miscue from Andrew Farrell soon after almost nullified the goal entirely, as Romell Quioto barged into the area alone and fired a rocket at Matt Turner, who thankfully was able to keep the shot out, and the game level at 1. Penilla’s impact on the game was felt very early on and very often, with some fantastic passing earning the Ecuadorian Delorean a golden chance to score, though Joe Willis was able to reach out and halt Penilla’s finessed shot from reaching the twine.
Arena’s squad pressed high and feverishly, as the ball never seemed to leave Houston’s end of the field for the final 15 minutes, setting up what was sure to be an incredible finish for either side. At the stroke of 90 minutes, the Revs broke into an attack, with Cristian Penilla and JFC breaking into the box with serious pace, catching the backline wholly off guard. Penilla reached the end line, and face to face with Joe Willis, sent a perfect pass across the box to super-sub Teal Bunbury, who slotted home the game-winning goal for the boys in blue with only a few minutes of extra time remaining. With one sub remaining, Arena swapped Jalil Anibaba for Carles Gil, to wane out the final seconds, as the Revs were able to extend their unbeaten run to 6 games (3-0-3) and kick the second half of the season off right.
Thanks to a 92nd-minute game-tying penalty kick from Wayne Rooney against Toronto FC, the Revs were able to gain ground on Toronto, who have been holding onto the final playoff spot. The Revs, now only two points outside of the playoff picture, will look to leapfrog Orlando City and Toronto when they take on the Colorado Rapids in Denver on the 4th of July. This win is absolutely massive for the Revs, mentality-wise. As Arena had said in a presser earlier in the week, “The second half is the season in MLS.”, and starting it off with a win is certainly the way to do it.
When Matt Turner is on his game, boy is he good. To go from being the third string keeper behind Shuttleworth and Knighton, to start for the club is incredible, and the past two seasons he’s proven time and time again he deserves to start week in, week out.
Teal Bunbury and Cristian Penilla were real difference-makers this time around, with Penilla assisting on Bunbury’s game-winner, and the duo springing chance after chance in the final 20 minutes.
Toni Delamea filled in wonderfully for Jalil Anibaba, and his strength over a weaker Houston side made attacking the Slovenian a hefty task. The third-year centerback was able to pot the game-tying goal as well on a fantastic header, and only fueled the energy for his side leading up to Bunbury’s game-winning goal.
Justin Rennicks looked as hungry as ever in wanting to score his first league goal, after having scored for both the USYNT and in the Open Cup in the past month alone, and came close on occasion. Offering the youngster a HG contract prior to the beginning of the year may have been one of the smarter things Mike Burns has done in his life, and the investment certainly looks to be paying dividends soon enough.
Diego Fagundez, who hadn’t been having a season reminiscent of years past, but this match he was able to show what he does bring to the table, spreading out the attack, and adding an entirely new dimension of pace, passing, and IQ to the game, leading in part to the first goal of the match. Thanks to Diego’s brilliant ball from the corner flag, and play down the line in the second half, the Revs were able to fight back and win this one.
It might seem crazy, but I’m genuinely optimistic for this team for the rest of the year, and I think we’ve got a great chance to make the playoffs, in a seed higher than 7 as well. The fans are buying into Arena’s program, and the players seem to be thriving under the new leadership in the club, and at this point, the sky seems like the limit for this group.
Photo: (USA Today Sports/David Silverman/AP)