FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Pele once simply referred to soccer as “the beautiful game.’’ An aspect of that enduring description was on display last night as newly-crowned Portuguese champion Benfica defeated the New England Revolution 4-0 before 12,735.
Benfica, missing seven of their World Cup-bound players and at least another three team members who didn’t travel for various reasons, still managed to put a classy team on the field that played with a graceful rhythm and coordinated movement that often left the hosts a step slow.
“We got outplayed so it was tough for everybody,’’ said revolution coach Steve Nicol, himself a veteran of the great Liverpool teams of the 1980’s. “The good thing for us to take out of this game is to see what they do well. And no surprise -- all the good teams control the ball, pass the ball and move. Those three things that sound very simple when they’re done well are very hard to play against. If we can look at them and try to understand that if we can do that better then we are at the present time, then we’ll get better.
Nicol, who has struggled to field a preferred first team this season because of injuries and a suspension to Shalrie Joseph, said that last night’s exhibition allowed everyone to get on the field and give their best hopefully without depleting their energies.
“We were just trying make sure that nobody did too much,’’ he said. “It’s not really fresh legs; we just wanted to give a few guys a break as well. Saturday is the priority for us. Sometimes it’s good experience for guys to play against guys who’s second nature is to pass and move.
“I’ve said already that one of the positive things we should take out of it is that the players should look at them and see what they do well,’’ he added. “It’s not all tricks and stuff like that. It’s real football stuff. It’s real great nice touch, good passing and good movement. Those three things combined together, it’s fantastic.’’
The Revolution also gave a try out to three players, two of whom, Serbian midfielder Ivan Gvozdenovic and Haitian striker Jean-Baptiste Fritzon, were in the starting team. But the coach said it was rather difficult to get a read on them because his team had such a sparse distribution of the ball.
“It’s kind of tough. He’s not fully fit," Nicol said of Gvozdenovic. "That’s always going to be difficult no matter what you are playing against. We couldn’t get on the ball enough and have it long enough for him to probably show what he really can do. But, at the same time, we saw certain things that we can evaluate and we can decide.’’
Gvozdenovic, who arrived in Boston just four days before the match, said he was simply trying to get his feet underneath him and hope his instincts would take over.
“For me the time zone was different and I didn’t know the team,’’ he said. “It was a tough game and Benfica is a very good team. It was a big experience, they played together a long time ago and they know how to play football. They scored the goals and we tried to do our best.’’
Nicol called Fritzon a hard worker but also said there was scant opportunity to evaluate the forward because he rarely got any service.
“I think they all worked extremely hard,’’ said the coach. “They’re all in different situations. [Fritzon] up front has been playing. He played in an international last week, so he’s obviously a lot fitter than the other two guys. As far as the effort and work rate, they did well enough. Obviously it’s hard for anybody.
Captain Cory Gibbs, a veteran of the English Premier and the Dutch first division, was impressed by Benfica but not surprised by their level of play.
“Top of the Portuguese league is always good competition for us,’’ Gibbs said. “This type of team will see small mistakes and capitalize on them, and that affected us today.
"It’s a higher-caliber team. But no matter what, regardless of the caliber of the team, we need to come ready to play. I think the mistakes that we made shouldn’t have happened, even against a big team like Benfica. Those mistakes affected us and they capitalized on them.”
Benfica captured its 33rd Portuguese league crown this season, its first such title in five years after watching Porto win the previous four championships and stake a claim to preeminence in Portuguese soccer. While it had a dominating season, Benfica didn't win the league title until the last week of play by getting a victory when one point would have sufficed.
The Revolution will resume league play Saturday in Toronto. Benfica also heads to Toronto to face Greek powerhouse Panathanaikos.