After missing the postseason for the third straight year in 2012, the objective -- scratch that, the expectation -- was that the New England Revolution would reach the playoffs in 2013.
While the Revolution proved they were up for the challenge, it was how they went about meeting that challenge that caught many by surprise. Whether it was the emergence of teenager Diego Fagundez, the stout defense displayed by newcomer Jose Goncalves, or the highlight-reel blasts fired by Kelyn Rowe, it’s fair to say that the local XI’s success hardly went according to script.
Not that anyone in New England was complaining, of course. But with the 2013 season in the rear-view mirror, let’s take a look back at the top five moments of a season that brimmed with promise.
5. May 7: The Juan Agudelo trade. Two months into the season, the Revolution hardly looked like a team bound for the postseason. Quite the opposite, actually. Through their first eight games, they scored only four goals, one of which came from an own goal gifted to them by Brandon Barklage in a humbling 4-1 loss at New York on April 20. Clearly, something had to be done to awaken the offense. The team then acquired 20-year-old striker Juan Agudelo from Chivas USA for allocation money. The trade was a masterstroke. Agudelo scored in his Revolution debut, a 2-0 win at Houston on May 18, then scored again in a 2-0 win over Toronto a week later. In 14 games, the physical forward collected seven goals and, more importantly, became the attacking force the squad sorely needed. Without the addition of Agudelo, the Revolution probably would have fallen short of the postseason for the fourth straight season.
4. April 27: Pivotal win over Philadelphia. Taking a quick look at the 34 games the Revolution played over the course of the regular season, a number of those contests could justifiably be called important results. Whether it was the aforementioned 2-0 win at Houston, the 2-0 win vs. Chicago on Aug. 17, or the 5-1 thrashing of Philadelphia on Aug. 25, the Revolution racked up convincing wins en route to their surprising third-place finish. But according to coach Jay Heaps, the game that reversed his team’s fortunes came in a 2-0 win over Philadelphia. Going into the contest, the Revolution were licking their wounds tethered to a 1-3-2 record, and the season quickly slipping through their grasp. But finally they came out and played with purpose. They created chances, tested the Union back four, and found goals from Lee Nguyen and Diego Fagundez. The defense did their part, too, and kept the fledgling Philadelphia offense in check. It may look like an insignificant early-season victory on paper, but to Heaps it was the game that showed what his squad was made of.
3. June 2: The five-goal thumping of the defending champs. It had been a long time since the Revolution uncorked five goals in league play. Almost nine years, in fact. But in soccer, just as in life, timing is everything, and the Revolution sure picked the right occasion to shine. With the back-to-back defending champion Los Angeles Galaxy in town and the match being televised nationally, the offense came alive. Not only did the Revolution score five times, but they boasted five different goalscorers. The Revolution made a statement on that sunny Sunday afternoon: that they had the firepower to put one of the best clubs on its back and the swagger to contend for a postseason berth.
2. Aug. 17: The return of Reis. It’s impossible to tell the tale of the 2013 Revolution without making mention of the Boston Marathon bombings, and the effect that it had on veteran goalkeeper Matt Reis. The 16-year keeper, who was beset by injuries early on, found himself in the crosshairs of fate on the afternoon of April 15. While cheering on his wife, Nicole, at the finish line of the 117th Boston Marathon, the first of two bombs exploded only yards away from where Reis stood. Reis escaped unharmed, but his father-in-law, John Odom, was struck by shrapnel, and required immediate medical attention. While chaos and panic took hold, Reis calmly removed his jacket and used it as a tourniquet to stem the bleeding from Odom’s leg. It turned out to be a life-saving decision, and Reis earned national acclaim for his heroic actions. But it wasn’t until August that the reliable veteran would get to play in a league match. Following a 3-0 loss at Sporting Park, Reis took over for starter Bobby Shuttleworth against Chicago, and was warmly embraced and supported by the supporters. The Revolution earned a 2-0 win that night, and Reis, 38, never let go of the starter’s job as the squad made a late-season run to the postseason.
1. Oct. 27: Playoff ticket is punched. The Revolution entered their regular-season finale at Columbus holding their fate in their own hands. A win or draw against the Crew, and a coveted postseason berth was theirs. But it wouldn’t be easy. The Crew came out on fire in the opening moments, and nearly stole an early goal when Dominic Oduro seized a poor pass deep inside the Revolution end and forced Reis to make a critical save. Not only did it jar the guests, but it nearly knocked captain Jose Goncalves (who suffered a hamstring strain on the play) out of the most important game of the season. The Portuguese center back played through the pain, stayed on the pitch, and helped seal the rear. Meanwhile, Agudelo scored in the 27th minute to give the Revolution the only goal they needed to punch their postseason ticket. For the players and coaching staff, it was proof positive that lineup changes, the formation tweaks and the faith shown in its young players had paid off. For the supporters, it marked the end of a dark, three-season spell.