FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Revolution’s quest to add hardware to their trophy case Wednesday night went for naught as Mexico’s Monarcas Morelia captured a 2-1 SuperLiga championship victory at Gillette Stadium in the fourth edition of the two-nations tournament the Revolution won back in 2008.
The Monarcas, who are five games into their Apertura (fall season), demonstrated a more fluid and defined style of play than the team the Revolution defeated on July 21 by a 1-0 score in the tournament’s group play, when the Mexican team was in preseason.
Two goals by Mexican international Miguel Sabah, who scored against the United States in World Cup qualifying but was left off the final team that traveled to South Africa this past June, spelled the difference. Sabah’s strikes -- a 65th minute penalty shot and a 75th minute left-footed volley from about 26 yards gave the winners a two-goal lead. That lead was quickly cut in half by Kevin Alston’s 78th-minute goal -- the defender's first of his professional career.
The victory also gave Morelia the lion’s share of the tournament’s bonus money, collecting a cool $300,000 to split among the team while the Revolution got $150,000 as tournament runners-up. The Revolution, who in the past decade played in four MLS Cups coming up empty each time, did win a Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup as the second trophy in the team’s case.
Morelia, a mid-sized market team in Mexico’s well-capitalized soccer league, was thrilled to win the SuperLiga trophy, according to coach Tomas Boy, who said the disparity in the size and power of Mexican teams makes it difficult for a team like his to win at the highest level in his country.
“I don’t know [about] the other teams,’’ said Boy, “but for a team like ours that doesn’t have the power or the means to bring in the big players as the other big teams or institutions in the country, that for us and about 12 to 14 teams overall in the country, it means a lot to win a title like this because it’s a chance to win a championship and maybe those other teams have more opportunities [to win other titles].’’
Revolution coach Steve Nicol thought his team played decently but was prone to some mistakes that eventually cost it the first goal of the night -- a disputed penalty by Darrius Barnes, who was called for hauling down Luis Gabriel Rey in the 65th minute. It appeared Rey had leaned heavily on Barnes while fighting for a ball that hung around the penalty area after Barnes failed to clear it.
“We hadn’t cleared it and, to be honest, from where I’m sitting, I can’t really see much,’’ said Nicol. “The guy’s gone down. Had it been in the other penalty box, we’d have we’d have been rooting for it, as well.
"Sometimes you get them and other times, you don’t get them. On this occasion, they got it. But it was from our mistake. A lot of the good things they did were down to basic errors that we made and they capitalized. Including the penalty.’’
Morelia’s game-winning goal was a blast from Sabah, who anticipated the trajectory of a headed clearance from Barnes near the edge of his penalty area. The ball fell to about 26 yards from the goal and Sabah unleashed a left-footed volley as the ball never touched the ground, looping over Matt Reis' reach as the Revolution goalkeeper left just enough space behind him while standing at the edge of the six-yard box.
“We’ve worked hard on our shooting, but in the first half, we weren’t very prolific with our finishing,’’ said Boy. “But in the second half, we were a bit more precise in the final third.
"Our first goal opened up their defense a bit. On the second goal, Sabah is an unpredictable goal scorer who is capable of scoring any kind of goal. Later, they scored a goal that put us in a really good fight. They risked everything using almost five forwards at that point, as you would expect in a final. But in the end, we knew we could weather the storm.’’
The Revolution almost got on the board first when attacker Kheli Dube got in alone in the 57th minute but was thwarted by Morelia goalkeeper Federico Vilar. That play, going against the run of play, might have changed the tenor of the game, according to Nicol, who singled out that moment.
“It’s always going to be tough,’’ said Reis. “The way we are playing right now, we are only going to be scoring about a goal a game. In order to do that, it was going to take something special. We got close but not close enough. ‘’
Reis said the Revolution now have to try to play their best soccer of the season in the team’s final nine games to give themselves a chance at postseason qualification.
“I hope so,’’ he said. “We have [nine] games left. We are pretty far out of the playoff picture but we got to hunker down and get some results. We are probably going to have to win 90 percent of the games we got left.’’