By Danny Picard
FOXBORO -- It's rare that the difference in a one-goal match is everything that happened before the second and game-winning goal. But on Wednesday night at Gillette Stadium, New England Revolution coach Steve Nicol blamed his team's 2-1 loss to Monarcas Morelia in the SuperLiga Finals on everything but Miguel Sabah's second goal of the evening.
As Morelia celebrated their SuperLiga championship on New England's confetti-filled field, Nicol addressed the media in a quite somber mood, pointing out that the difference in Wednesday's loss came down to two things: a missed opportunity on the offensive attack, and a careless mistake in their own end.
After a scoreless first half in which there was only one total shot on goal, midfielder Kheli Dube nearly gave the Revs a 1-0 lead in the 57th minute, as he stepped in the box all alone with the ball at his feet. Morelia goalkeeper Federico Vilar ran out and dove at the ball, causing Dube to kick it right into his chest.
That was the missed opportunity.
The careless mistake came six minutes later, when Revs defender Darrius Barnes was given a yellow card inside his own box for pulling down Sabah as he had the ball, ready to fire away at Revs goalkeeper Matt Reis.
Sabah was rewarded with a penalty kick, which he shot right into the middle of the net, past a diving Reis, who guessed to his left.
Instead of a 1-0 Revolution lead on a Dube goal in the 57th minute, Morelia took a 1-0 lead off their own in the 63rd minute, thanks to the missed opportunity, and the careless defensive mistake.
"Those two things are huge, in the outcome of the game," said Nicol after the loss. "If we can get a nose ahead, it's a different ballgame. Then obviously we make a mistake, and we get a penalty. It changed the whole game."
As for the penalty call, Nicol said he couldn't see it as well as he would have liked, but him and his goalkeeper both agreed. If the shoe was on the other foot, they would have wanted the call.
"Had it been in the other penalty box, we'd have been looking for it as well," said Nicol. "Sometimes you get them, sometimes you don't get them. On this occasion, they got it."
"It's a penalty, that if, if it happens to us, you're calling for a penalty, but if it happens against you, you're not," said Reis. "Darrius fell down, and the guy just kind of fell into him and fell over. It's unfortunate, but that's the way it goes."
The penalty call doesn't mean a goal is automatic. Sabah still had to put it past Reis. But as the Revs goalkeeper pointed out after the game, the only strategy involved in saving a penalty kick is to read and react before the ball is even kicked.
"It's tough because guys at this level, they can kind of go anywhere," said Reis. "They can read to see where you're going, so you try to stay as long as possible and get a read on it. And he went right up the middle."
Sabah gave Morelia a 2-0 lead in the 75th minute when he rocketed a ball, out of mid-air, into the top left corner of the Revolution net. A 50-50 header at the top of New England's box resulted in a loose ball from 25 yards out, which Sabah didn't even let hit the ground, booting it past Reis for the 2-0 lead.
The Revs added some drama late in the second half, and cut Morelia's lead to 2-1 in the 79th minute, after defender Kevin Alston scored his first-career professional goal. Alston and rookie Zack Schilawski played a nice little game of give-and-go, and Schilawski found Alston streaking into the right side of the box, where the Revs defender then finished with a low kick into the left corner of the net.
"The whole thing happens because he makes a great run," said Schilawski. "You know he's going to be aggressive getting out of the back, and he finished it well.
"It looked like we were a little bit more energized after that," he said. "I thought we were going to get the second one in. To be fair, we had some chances. They just didn't fall for us."
And as a result, Morelia walks away as SuperLiga champions.
Danny Picard is on Twitter at http:twitter.comDannyPicard