FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – It was supposed to be a fair-weather spring day with the New England Revolution in reasonable shape to win its first game of the season.
But FC Cincinnati, an expansion team making its first visit to New England, did not get that memo as it strolled to a comfortable 2-0 victory in front of an announced crowd of 10,605 at Gillette Stadium Sunday.
Kekuta Manneh opened the scoring for the visitors, who were missing a third of their starters to international call-ups, by capping a breakaway that started with Revolution goalkeeper Brad Knighton turning over possession from a goal kick just before halftime.
Kenny Saief, who also made his first Cincinnati start, made it 2-0 in the 65th minute. Cincinnati goalkeeper Spencer Richey made two saves to preserve the newly-minted side’s second ever clean sheet.
Despite missing defenders Kendall Waston (Costa Rica) and Alvas Powell (Jamaica), plus strikers Fanendo Adi (Nigeria) and Darren Mattocks (Jamaica), Cincinnati (2-1-1, 7 points) thoroughly outworked a Revolution side that comparatively was mostly at full strength.
New England was only without rookies Tajon Buchanan (injury) and Justin Rennicks (U.S. U-23), as well as Zachary Herivaux (Haiti) and Gabriel Somi (Syria) while right back Andrew Farrell (eye) remained on the bench.
Revolution coach Brad Friedel didn’t seem too bothered by either side’s lack of personnel in a 13-minute-long post-game press conference in which he decried the team’s work rate in the first half, questioned the effort of players that he also chose not to call out by name, and preached patience about an impending international signing expected to come in the summer.
“I don’t like standing up here talking about losing to what is, essentially, a depleted Cincinnati team,” Friedel said. “It doesn’t make me happy.
“We got ourselves down in a game, really, because we didn’t work hard. There’s not a lot more to it.
“As a player, whether you don’t like your coach or the club you’re at or all these things, the easy thing to do is to work hard. Anyone in the world, whether it’s Lionel Messi or someone else, can work hard.”
From a neutral perspective though, the story was Cincinnati continuing to punch above its weight class.
It became just the second expansion team to win at Gillette Stadium on its first try, joining the Philadelphia Union, which did so in 2011.
The result also marked just the second time in history and since 2013 that the Revolution have failed to score a goal in either of their first two home games of a season.
“It’s tough to reflect after what just happened,” Knighton said. “The main thing is it’s about us. We didn’t do enough today to win at home. That’s two in a row here at home. That’s on us as a group and here in this locker room.”
New England was discordant from the start and barely even threatened in the first half, which ended with the visitors ahead 1-0 after out-shooting the hosts 8-3.
Cincinnati broke through in the 44th minute – the second consecutive game that New England has conceded just before halftime – off a giveaway by Knighton, a veteran goalkeeper.
Mar 24, 2019; Foxborough, MA, USA; FC Cincinnati midfielder Emmanuel Ledesma (45) clears the ball away from New England Revolution defender Edgar Castillo (8) during the first half at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports
After Knighton’s goal kick, Cincinnati’s Forrest Lasso won back possession in the middle of the field. He then sent the ball down the left flank, releasing Saief, who squared the ball to Manneh for an easy put-away.
Cristian Penilla, who started the game on the right flank, switched to left side to start the second half and Friedel withdrew central midfielder Wilfried Zahibo for Scott Caldwell in the 53rd minute. The Revolution managed to get forward more, but rarely tested Richey.
The host’s best chance came in the 61st minute when Penilla found Carles Gil in space near the top of the area. Richey parried Gil’s left-footed drive and was also equal to the rebound that fell to Diego Fagundez.
Cincinnati’s second goal was slightly against the run of play.
New England failed to clear a 65th minute corner as possession fell near the left side of the box to Emmanuel Ledesma. Ledesma then crossed into the area for Manneh, who redirected the ball centrally for Saief to slot home the game’s second goal.
“What we gave out there was not nearly 50 percent,” added Antonio Delamea, who also questioned his teammates’ passion. “We can have a bad day, but this can’t be an excuse to not give 100 percent, especially on our home field.
“It’s a tough time for us. We need to do much, much better.”
With the loss, the Revolution are now 6-3-6 all-time in their first matchup against an expansion team.