FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – A week ago, New England Revolution head coach Brad Friedel dug into his players for not working hard enough in a disappointing home loss to FC Cincinnati, then said some MLS players don’t properly internalize the pressure to win because of the league’s lack of promotion and relegation.
One closed door meeting between coaches and players and a few more minutes of eye-popping sound bites from Friedel later, the Revolution had a chance to make amends and snap their four-game winless streak to start the season at home against Minnesota United.
New England did just that, by playing like a team at risk of relegation.
Using a starting XI that featured six changes from the team that laid an egg in a two-goal loss against Cincinnati six days earlier, the Revolution secured a 2-1 victory in front of an announced crowd of 10,657 at sunny Gillette Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
“You guys, and a lot of experts out there, are probably surprised that we can motivate the players to work hard,” said Friedel, sounding a lot like New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick. “But all those players, every single day, see them work hard…a couple of first half performances that we’ve had here that they haven’t been up to par shouldn’t be the focal point. Very proud of the players’ performance today.”
Both New England goals were a product of Friedel’s personnel changes. Jalil Anibaba, who made his first start since the season opener, replaced Antonio Delamea in central defense and emerged unmarked in the box in the 10th minute to head in a looping cross from Carles Gil.
Darwin Quintero tied the game for Minnesota (2-2-0, 6 points) at halftime from the penalty spot after match referee Allen Chapman called a hand ball on New England’s Michael Mancienne upon consulting VAR review in the 26th minute.
But the Revolution (1-3-1, 4 points) found their mojo in the second half. Rookie DeJuan Jones, making his first professional start, crafted the play that led to the go-ahead goal when he found Teal Bunbury in space in the 62nd minute. Bunbury faced Minnesota goalkeeper Vito Mannone and squared the ball to an open Brandon Bye, who ran into the area late to slot home the pivotal score from a tight angle.
It was Bye’s first goal of the season and the second of his career, plus Jones’ first career assist.
“First half, my touches were kind of off, I was kind of getting used to the game, and then in the second half I got some confidence from my teammates and coaches,” Jones said. “Then I come out and started getting more touches and seeing the field more, and Teal made a great run.
“I just played him into space. He took a shot – or a cross – and Brandon was there to finish up the play.”
Mar 30, 2019; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Revolution defender Jalil Anibaba (3) celebrates his goal with defender Edgar Castillo (8) and forward Juan Agudelo (17) during the first half against the Minnesota United at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports
Other changes by Friedel included goalkeeper Cody Cropper making his first start since the 2017 season to replace Brad Knighton, who wasn’t even in the match 18 on Saturday.
Andrew Farrell also made his first start after being cleared to play following more than a month off with a torn retina, allowing Bye to advance into midfield to play the right edge on a 4-4-2 diamond formation.
Scott Caldwell replaced Wilfried Zahibo in central midfield and Juan Agudelo started for Diego Fagundez. Jones started in place of reigning team MVP Cristian Penilla, who also didn’t even make the bench.
“Everybody went into this week knowing we were fighting for our jobs,” said Cropper, who ended the game with two saves. “It’s been a long season so far, it’s been a difficult one for us, obviously with the criticism of us not putting together performances the last couple of weeks.
“I think today we did everything very well. We played them off the field and did the simple things right.”