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Frustrated New England Revolution can take positives from draw with D.C. United

The New England Revolution have delivered improved performances under the direction of interim coach Mike Lapper.

The New England Revolution settled for a 1-1 tie with D.C. United on Saturday night at Gillette Stadium. The Revs took a 1-0 lead despite playing with 10 men, but United upped the offensive pressure and secured an equalizer from the penalty spot in the 90th minute.

Here are three takeaways on the result from New England’s perspective:

One point gained – but also two points lost

Brandon Bye said he was only trying to protect his face from a Steve Birnbaum volley when he got called for a hand ball in the box moments before the 90th minute on Saturday night.

Wayne Rooney buried the ensuing spot kick to equalize and help United steal one point at Gillette Stadium.

Juan Agudelo and interim coach Mike Lapper sided with Bye, saying referee David Gantar made a harsh decision in awarding United the penalty at the death. That said, Agudelo and Lapper struck more of a glass half-full tone when asked about dropping points in spite of a gritty, hard-fought performance by the Revolution.

“The guys in the locker room are obviously disappointed,” Lapper said. “They thought they should’ve got the three points, but I tell you, I’m so proud of them. I mean, they just worked so, so hard and everyone stuck to the plan and it was a great team performance.”

Agudelo added: “I just felt like it wasn’t really our fault. Refs, they get rated on the decisions they make. They’re human and it just didn’t go our way.”

Playing hard is no solace for dropping points, though players and coaches were pleased with the team’s performance. The Revolution remained resolute on defense despite entering the weekend with the league’s worst defensive record and created numerous chances, even taking the lead despite being one man down.

Neither Rooney nor Luciano Acosta got clear looks on net until well into the second half, with Rooney’s penalty kick snapping a 182-minute shutout streak.

Setting table for Arena

Incoming head coach/sporting director Bruce Arena looked on from a luxury box high above the Gillette Stadium field on Saturday night as his new team battled one of his former teams to a 1-1 draw.

Arena will lead his first training session with the Revolution on Tuesday, but it’s unclear whether he will officially be on the sidelines for a June 2 visit to the LA Galaxy. If Arena does coach against LA, it will mean he will try to extend a three-game unbeaten run the Revolution have accrued in Lapper’s time as interim coach.

The last three weeks have shown that the Revolution are significantly better than when Lapper first took over, at which time the club had just secured the league’s worst defensive record and was stuck at the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings. Since then, the Revolution have won a game, earned an away shutout and went toe-to-toe with D.C. United, which took over first place in the table after Saturday night’s draw.

“I used this game all week as being massive: It was big for the club, big for the players individually, as we make the transition,” Lapper said. “And they need to show themselves in front of Bruce and show what kind of fight and grit they have, and they showed it tonight.

“Bruce is going to have some tough decisions, but we have a good team. We really do. That’s a very good D.C. United team. I think they’re tied for first and we gave them everything they could handle.”

New England is currently four points out of a playoff spot with more than half the season remaining. In the days before the club fired Brad Friedel and general manager Mike Burns, missing the playoffs seemed like a foregone conclusion; now, it’s a remote possibility.

Lapper has managed to encourage and invigorate the players, which is obvious not only in the team’s recent run of form on the field but also in the positive, chummy atmosphere inside the Revolution locker room. Since taking over in the interim, Lapper has been making the case that the team is good enough to reach the postseason.

Arena, in his introductory press conference, focused on establishing a winning culture at the club within the next few years, but also did not downplay the current roster’s potential this season.

“There’s so much left to be played and so many points still to get out there,” Lapper said. “And my challenge to them now is going to be, can we go to L.A. and get three points, because we’ve got to get three points.”

Will Arena stick with Lapper’s roster decisions?

Lapper has been unafraid to shake up the matchday 18 roster and keep team veterans off the field entirely.

Veteran central defender Antonio Delamea and playmaking midfielder Diego Fagundez did not dress on Saturday night. In addition, starting left back Edgar Castillo got benched in favor of DeJuan Jones, a rookie who entered the league as an attacking player.

Delamea is remaining positive and is eager to get to work with Arena at the helm, but Fagundez is a bigger question because he’s become one of the faces of the franchise despite being frustrated with his recent play.

On Saturday afternoon, his father, Washington, who is also his agent, seemed to suggest change was coming for the third time in eight months.

“After 9 years at the Club for the first time out of the 18, I think changes are coming and it’s time to leave,” the translated tweet reads.

The Revolution didn’t seem to miss Fagundez too much on the field on Saturday night as Carles Gil dropped back and served as the team’s playmaker from deep in central defense. Cristian Penilla, Juan Agudelo, DeJuan Jones, and Luis Caicedo all pitched in with creating chances.

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