New England Revolution Impressive, Chicago Fire Listless in Week 2 Matchup

John D. Halloran@JohnDHalloranContributor IIMarch 10, 2013

Mar 9, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; New England Revolution midfielder Donald Smith (33) and Chicago Fire forward Patrick Nyarko (14) battle for the ball during the first half at Toyota Park. Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports
Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

On Saturday night in front of a sparse crowd on a blustery night in Chicago, the New England Revolution opened up their 2013 campaign with a 1-0 away win over the struggling Chicago Fire.

Honduran Jerry Bengtson scored the game-winner for the Revolution in the 61st minute, as he headed in a beautifully chipped pass from second-half substitute Kelyn Rowe.

The Revolution, who haven’t made the playoffs since 2009, looked sharp through much of the contest, putting together some great attacking combinations through their midfield.

Coming off a 2012 campaign in which New England struggled to find goals, the Revolution found solid stretches on possession in the attacking third through the midfield play, particularly through the efforts of Juan Carlos Toja, who was involved in most of the Revolution’s dangerous sequences.

For the Fire, who lost their 2013 opener last week to the L.A. Galaxy, things are beginning to look much worse.

Center midfielder Joel Lindpere, who was brought in to help the Fire improve their central midfield play, once again struggled to impact the game and went long stretches without getting on the ball. When he did get involved, Lindpere was just average.

In the 32nd minute, Lindpere served a great ball to Dilly Duka, but the chance was wasted by Duka. In the 49th minute, Maicon Santos found Lindpere through the middle of the Revs defense, but Lindpere was too unselfish, and instead of taking the chance himself, played an over-weighted pass to Duka which ran out of bounds.

In the last five minutes of the match, Lindpere set up two more chances for the Fire, but both came to nothing. Overall, Lindpere’s involvement was too little, too late.

The Fire also tried four different players up top in the match, including starters Chris Rolfe and Sherjill MacDonald, as well as second-half substitutes Maicon Santos and Alex. All four players failed to make a significant impact on the game.

If there was one bright spot for the Fire, it came in the play of center-back Austin Berry. Berry, who was the MLS Rookie of the Year in 2012, played well despite the continued absence of his usual center-back partner Arne Friedrich (hamstring injury). Friedrich was the Fire’s Player of the Year in 2012 and many attributed Berry’s success in 2012 largely to his partnership with Friedrich.

Even without Friedrich, however, Berry was the Fire’s best player. He was sent off the field twice in the first half after being bloodied in a collision with Revolution forward Jerry Bengtson, but Berry returned to the match both times to put in a solid 90-minute effort.

On three separate occasions Berry bailed the Fire out of trouble. On the first, a mistake by center-back partner Jalil Anibaba in the 25th minute almost let the Revolution in on goal, but Berry was quick to recognize the danger and covered Anibaba’s mistake.

In the second half, Berry squashed the Revolution’s best combination of the night. In the 56th minute, the Revolution put together a gorgeous six-pass combination between Andrew Farrell, Toja, Lee Nguyen and Kelyn Rowe to put Toja in alone on goal. But at the last second, Berry came sliding in to just nick the ball away from Toja as he prepared to finish the chance.

Finally, in the 60th minute, just before the Revolution finally broke through, Berry recovered nicely after Bengtson had beaten Anibaba through the middle of the Fire defense. Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson came out strong to make the initial save, but the ball bounced away from Johnson and was heading toward Bengtson for what would have been an open-net opportunity.

However, Berry once again arrived to save the day, clearing the ball away before Bengtson could get there.

For the Revolution, there were plenty of bright spots. Besides the outstanding midfield play of Toja, New England’s five-man midfield made it difficult for the Fire to get anything going in the middle of the pitch. Throughout the majority of the match, the Fire were forced by New England to resort to searching, ineffective long balls over the top.

When the Revolution did give up an opportunity, veteran Matt Reis was there to clean up the mess. Reis’ best moment of the match came in the 31st minute when Fire winger Dilly Duka hit a cannon shot from 25 yards out. Reis was somehow able to get a hand to the shot and parry it wide. Then, late in the second half, when the Fire were pushing hard for the equalizer, Reis was repeatedly big, making a number of good catches on dangerous services into his area and a solid save on a late shot by the Fire in stoppage time.

Also impressive for the Revs was the play of Jerry Bengtson and Kelyn Rowe, who, not surprisingly, connected for the game-winning goal. Bengtson had at least three dangerous chances in the match, all created, at least in part, due to his good runs and positioning. Rowe, the Revs' first-round draft pick in 2012, came off the bench and made an immediate impact on the game with his passing, dribbling and combination play.

For the Revolution, their play in Saturday’s match makes their goal of qualifying for the playoffs this season look very much possible. For the Fire, they will have to get their offense (scoreless in 180 minutes this year) into gear to have a chance at returning to the playoffs in 2013.

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