Monday, August 27, 2007

Sunday Morning Striker: Belated and Abbreviated...Revs beat Red Bulls, 2-1

Under a hazy New England dusk, the Revs and Red Bulls kicked off Saturday night’s match with a mere six points between them in the Eastern Conference standings.

With the football-lined pitch as their springboard, the Revs immediately broke deep into the New York end when Adam Cristman paced down the right wing and flicked a quick shot to the left of Jon Conway, who hauled it in with ease in the first minute.

The local lads continued to attack and in the eighth minute, nearly saw their early efforts rewarded when a fully-recovered-from-the-flu Steve Ralston looped a dazzling corner that was thwacked by Jeff Larentowicz point-blank on the Conway piñata in front of the goalmouth.

The Red Bulls finally answered with an attack of their own in the 14th minute as Matt Reis stepped up and detoured a Jozy Altidore shot that had its ticket booked for the back of the New England net.

Like a well-trained army, Steve Nicol’s boys immediately counterattacked seconds later when Cristman again penetrated the already porous Red Bull defense, and required Conway to once again save his teammates collective neck with a sure-handed save in the 15th minute.

Amazingly, the guest’s lackadaisical defense almost led to their premature undoing in the 17th minute. Cristman once again reappeared in the Red Bull area with ball in tow, and in a desperate attempt to abort a dangerous shot, “defender” Chris Leitch tugged away at the rookie’s adidas Climacool kit and brought him down. Referee Baldomero Toledo caught the sour display, and duly awarded the penalty.

In accordance with Revolution PK protocol, Shalrie Joseph lined the ball up the required twelve yards in front of the keeper. The Grenadian took a few steps back, and charged forward with a medium-caliber shot to the left and low that unmercifully clanked off the woodwork, keeping the score knotted at nil-nil.

Soon after the heart-wrenching miss, the clubs played back-and-forth-ball for the next ten (or so) minutes, as the Red Bull attack began to find its footing on the FieldTurf.

Despite being denied previously, Altidore boldly crashed the Revolution area and left Avery John in his wake as the youngin’ pushed the ball past the suddenly-defenseless Reis for the first goal of the game at the 30 minute mark. 1-0, Red Bulls.

Though the Revs attacked early and often, it began to appear that their offensive swagger had hit a bit of a funk until the 42nd minute. As the home club reassembled their assault, Joseph, centered in the middle of the attack, played the ball wide to Khano Smith on the left. Smith then took a touch, and played a beautiful ball to Taylor Twellman in the box before the striker took a close shot that just missed the net.

Yes, the score was 1-0 in favor of Bruce Arena’s boys, but the tempo of the match almost dictated that the scoreline should have been transposed, as the Revs had largely dominated the first half.

And no sooner did this theory begin to hold water in the opening seconds of Frame Two when, of all players, Reis fired up a quick counterattack when he launched a long ball that cut through the heavy, humid air and crashed near the heels of a fleet-footed Twellman in Red Bull territory. The forward cradled the ball, then weaved through the porous defense, and tapped it into the back of the net, giving the thousands of twelve year old girls on hand reason to screech and cheer, as the score evened at 1-1 in the 46th minute.

At the hour mark, Nicol made the obligatory Wells Thompson-for-Khano Smith substitution, as the Revs continued to pressure the Red Bull backs.

However, the ever-dangerous Juan Pablo Angel - he of an MLS-second-best 13 goals - snuck through the box before Reis - he of an MLS-best nine shutouts - smothered the threat in the 61st minute.

In the 67th minute, the scoreboard still flashed the 1-1 score. Where, oh where, would the go-ahead materialize? Twellman attempted to help the answer the question when he uncharacteristically sent a pass from midfield to a stuck-in-sixth-gear Thompson on the right. The rook tried to cut down his angle before he sent a skipping shot that went wide of the far post.

By the 80th minute, the home crowd had seen a largely well-played match by their hometown heroes. The entertainment value was already high at this point. But why not throw in a good laugh?

The chortling came unexpectedly after Red Bull substitute Carlos Mendes attempted to play the ball back to his keeper. Unfortunately, the memo must not have fully circulated, as the pass caught Conway flat-footed and well off his line, as the routine dump off slowly trickled into the back corner of the net for the universal punchline of “own goal.” 2-1, Revs.

The score remained 2-1 into stoppage time, and Bruce Arena was sporting that classic "stoic, yet goofy" facial expression he perfected during the 2006 World Cup. Nevertheless, the Red Bulls tried to wipe the egg of their faces on a hasty mini-attack that culminated on a Clint Mathis liner over the bar. Soon after Reis air mailed the goal kick, the match expired, as the Revs collected a well-deserved three points over their Eastern Conference foes.

Well, it’s 12:41am on Monday, and SMS deeply apologizes for getting this witless attempt at humor to you in a length of time that would only make a tortoise proud. He (SMS, not the reptile) just returned from National Soccer Hall of Fame induction ceremonies, and after four-and-a-half hours on the New York and Mass Turnpikes, he’s ready to retire to his bedchamber. Grandpa’s old cough medicine will remain untouched before bed tonight!

Join us after the road DC tilt, where, after nearly two weeks of recuperation, SMS will return in full over-analytical flight. See…zzzzz….you…(clears throat)….zzzz. (Goodnight!)

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