FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – It took 12 games over two seasons, but the New England Revolution’s unbeaten run at home is suddenly no more.
Longtime rivals Chicago Fire spoiled the parties for the hosts on a humid Saturday evening at Gillette Stadium, holding off a Revolution comeback to secure a 2-1 win.
“We weren’t sharp enough,” said Revolution defender Antonio Mlinar Delamea, who scored New England’s lone goal off a header in the 70th minute with his team down by two to jumpstart a late rally. “We made too many technical mistakes.
“When you’re two goals behind, it’s sometimes too late to start playing. Football sometimes gives you, sometimes takes, but this time we lost.”
New England out-shot Chicago 24-8 and were on the front foot at the time of both the Fire’s goals. Nevertheless, the visitors caught the hosts napping both times they scored and used the defensive play of German midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger to see out the result.
Nemanja Nikolic opened the scoring in the 18th minute with his league-leading 13th goal of the season. He snuck in behind New England’s back line off a Matt Polster pass and went one-on-one with goalkeeper Cody Cropper, who saved Nikolic’s first shot but gave up a fat rebound.
Nikolic pounced on the loose ball put away the chance to give the Fire a lead they never relinquished.
“It was just really unlucky that it kind of lands right at his feet after the initial save,” Cropper said. “But obviously it’s something I can take away and work on and next time kind of hope that I either push it out of bounds or [not let it]land at his feet.”
Chicago doubled their lead in the 61st minute after absorbing pressure from New England, a combination play between Nikolic and Michael de Leeuw springing Luis Solignac in the box, who easily poked a shot past Cropper to make it 2-0.
The Revolution finally broke through in the 70th minute, as Lee Nguyen’s cross from outside the box found its way past Chicago goalkeeper Matt Lampson, the feed bouncing off the head of Juan Agudelo before being headed into the goal by Delamea to make it 2-1.
Before and after Delamea’s goal, the Revolution watched bushels of chances go begging.
In the first half, a combination play between Kelyn Rowe and Gershon Koffie sprung Kei Kamara, whose pass to the center of the box narrowly missed an outstretched for an easy tap-in (30th); Fagundez also took a shot that curled wide left (32nd) after a corner kick, then laced a shot over the bar (37th).
Juan Agudelo entered the game at halftime for Scott Caldwell to provide a second striker. Kamara, who had not been effective, was pulled for Teal Bunbury in the 80th minute.
Fagundez got the second half started with a shot from the top of the box that Lampson tipped away in the 49th minute. On the ensuing corner kick, Chris Tierney’s cross found Delamea, whose header was blocked again by Lampson.
Eleven minutes later, Chicago doubled the lead, which seemed to awaken the Revolution and the 21,548 crowd that was growing increasingly quiet.
Delamea scored his first MLS goal in the 70th minute, then Bunbury struck the post off a give-and-go with Agudelo in the 82nd minute. Fagundez and Bunbury combined to spring Nguyen in the center of the box, but Nguyen’s shot over the bar with his left foot (86th). Additionally, the Revolution had nine shots blocked, including a flurry in four minutes of stoppage time.
“I wish we were a little bit sharper,” said Revolution coach Jay Heaps. “In the end I thought we had two or three clear chances to score. Credit Chicago, I thought they came in and did a good job.
“We’re disappointed didn’t get at least a point. I really believed we deserved a point in the game. The first half, the way we played, we probably didn’t deserve it—it wasn’t a 90 minute performance for us.
“I think the guys are gutted in there. The energy and effort [was there]…I don’t think there’s a guy who can walk right now because we were trying to get a goal and that’s what you love. It was an exciting last 20 minutes and we really went for it.”
This was the Revolution’s first home loss since falling 2-0 to the Columbus Crew on August 20, 2016.
New England will now prepare to face Toronto FC in Canada on Friday evening.
“We’ve just gone out and really performed at home,” said Cropper, who didn’t dwell on his team’s success at Gillette Stadium, “Now we look to bounce back against Toronto away.”
If you want to reach Julian follow him on Twitter @juliancardillo