FOXBOROUGH — Patrick Mullins wasn’t the first player taken by the Revolution in the 2014 MLS Draft, but starting the rookie at forward has been one of the most influential changes coach Jay Heaps has made to this season’s lineup.
Mullins found the back of the net for the fourth time in as many games, and the Revolution defeated D.C. United, 2-1, in a battle between the Eastern Conference’s top two teams at Gillette Stadium on Saturday night.
After a mundane first half, the Revolution (7-3-2, 23 points) struck first in the 55th minute. Nineteen-year-old winger Diego Fagundez picked up the ball at the edge of the penalty box and surged forward at the United defense.
“The defense just opened up for him, and I thought he was going to take it all the way, but as a forward you’ve got to stay alert and ready for any type of rebounds,” said Mullins. “The ball came to my feet and I just did some quick footwork, in-and-out, got the ball on my left foot and I just wanted to lift [the ball].
“I didn’t want to rush it or just smash it,” he continued. “I think at that point you need a little composure, and I did it and found the back of the net.”
Mullins toe-poked the ball past United keeper Bill Hamid to give the Revolution the 1-0 advantage in the 55th minute. He also joined former Chicago Fire midfielder Damani Ralph as the second rookie in MLS history to score four goals in four games. Ralph accomplished the feat in 2003.
United (5-4-3, 18 points) managed to pull level in the 73d minute when substitute Fabian Espindola gathered a deflected cross from about 12 yards out and fired a left-footed shot past Revolution goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth.
It was the first goal the Revolution have allowed at home in 2014. Prior to the goal, New England hadn’t conceded at Gillette Stadium in 433 minutes. It is the second-longest streak in club history — the 2005 team didn’t allow a goal at Gillette Stadium until 501 minutes into the season.
The winning goal came in the 77th minute from a likely hero. Fagundez led the team in 2013 with five game-winning goals, and he found himself in the right spot again Saturday.
Teal Bunbury crossed the ball across United’s 6-yard box, and Hamid dived to try and push the ball away from the goal. It evaded his own defender and landed at the feet of Fagundez, who side-footed his shot into an open net to give New England the 2-1 victory.
Mullins said the team didn’t change the way it approached the game after a first half that included only two shots on goal from the Revolution.
“I thought we showed good composure,” said Mullins. “We stuck to our game plan, and that was to get me the ball quickly and try to make them shuffle around out of position as best as we could.”
There was a controversial red card given to United forward Eddie Johnson in the 83d minute, as the visitors pushed for another equalizer. Johnson shoved Revolution substitute Kelyn Rowe and appeared to kick at Rowe’s ankle. Referee Juan Guzman sent Johnson off, as United players looked at the referee in disbelief.
After the game, the referee responded to the pool reporter question, saying, “Eddie Johnson was issued a red card for violent conduct for kicking at an opponent while on the ground, while [the ball] was not within playing distance.”
The Revolution’s winning streak now sits at five games, and they are unbeaten in their last seven (6-0-1). New England sits in first place of the Eastern Conference by five points over Sporting KC, and will travel to Montreal Saturday in search of a sixth straight win.
Bunbury led the Revolution frontline to begin the year, but Heaps put Mullins at forward and moved Bunbury to the right wing for the first time before the 2-1 win at Toronto. In Mullins’s four starts since entering the lineup. the Revolution have scored 14 goals. Heaps praised his rookie forward’s influence on the offense.
“I think Patrick does an excellent job pressuring, holding the ball up and allowing our players to get forward,” said Heaps. “It wasn’t pretty. I thought [United] did a nice job of sitting their two defensive midfielders.
“Patrick had to earn it tonight, and I thought he did a great job.”